Sunday, May 20, 2012
Sunday's stuffed artichoke
Had you been raised in la famiglia di Signor Polpetta (you're smart, figure it out), this would be more than just the familiar sight of a classic Italian-American antipasto.
It would be a small but not unimportant slice of Home. Because Sunday supper, the best family time of all, rarely took place without the stuffed artichokes.
We did not eat ours at the beginning of the multi-course meal, however. For us the artichokes were for later on, after we had started to digest the pasta and the meatballs, the roasted chicken and the veal cutlets, often even after the pastries and the coffee and the finocchio crudo (raw fennel, but you knew that). More often than not, in fact, the artichokes were eaten well after we had left the table and moved on to other things.
They were their own separate thing, these stuffed artichokes, meant for picking at when the mood struck, and so everybody didn't eat them at the same time. They'd be had while on the sofa watching an afternoon ballgame, in the backyard playing cards, even sitting on the front stoop just before nightfall. There were plenty of Sundays where I didn't get around to eating my allotted 'choke until bedtime, standing in the kitchen or in front of the t.v. set or just gazing out the window to see what was happening on the street.
But I always got around to having one.
Stuffed artichokes aren't meant to be eaten hot from the oven, you know. And do not zap them in the microwave either. Room temperature is the way to go here. Make them, leave them out on the kitchen counter, and when the mood strikes go and have at it.
Trust me on this. I've had lots of practice.
Me and the stuffed stuff go way back.
Much as I love the stems, they must be cut from the bottoms so that the artichoke can sit flat in a pan. (I trim the stems and cook them along with the artichokes, then hope like hell that nobody else has their eye on them.)
This next step really does require a sharp knife, so please make sure to use one. Basically you're making a crosscut on the top so that you can get inside the artichoke to fill it with the stuffing.
This is what goes into the stuffing: breadcrumbs, cheese, pignoli (pine nuts), parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. Once you mix them all together you must add olive oil, but only enough to lightly bind it, otherwise it will be too oily.
I guarantee that when you look at the amount of stuffing you've prepared it will seem like way too much for just a couple of large artichokes. Thing is, it takes patience to stuff them properly, and if you are patient you will use up the stuffing mix. One at a time peel back each layer of leaves and begin cramming the stuffing down along the leaves and all the way around, until you've completed all the layers. This is not the time to be delicate, okay. Raw artichokes are tough as nails, so don't worry about hurting them.
After they've been fully stuffed place the artichokes in a baking dish filled with about an inch of water, drizzle a little olive oil over them, cover with aluminum foil and toss into the oven preheated to 375 degrees F.
Artichokes are funny things, and I find cooking times will often vary wildly. The best thing to do is yank out a leaf after about an hour in the oven and see if it's cooked enough. These large artichokes were ready after 1 hour and 20 minutes in the oven. Then I left them out, still covered in the foil, until they cooled to room temperature. (Doing this allows the flesh to soften a little more too.)
And there you go, a properly stuffed artichoke for you and yours.
No Sunday supper should be without it.
Makes 2 large artichokes or 4 small ones
1 cup good breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (loosely packed)
1/4 cup raw pignoli (pine nuts)
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
Extra virgin olive oil (enough to lightly bind ingredients)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
In a bowl mix together all the ingredients.
Remove stems so that artichokes can lay flat in a pan, then make a crosscut at the artichoke tip to reveal its inner leaves.
Stuff the mixture into as many rows of inner leaves as you can, until all the filling is used up.
Place artichokes in a baking pan with an inch of water, drizzle just a touch of olive oil over each artichoke, cover with aluminum foil and bake for about an hour. Pull out a leaf to test for doneness; more time may be required.
Remove pan from the oven and leave it loosely covered in foil until artichokes come to room temperature and serve.