Smooth artichokes

In praise of globe artichokes

There are some beautiful globe artichokes available at the moment, bulbous, sturdy and completely alien looking.  I’ll admit to not having a clue as to what to do with these strange beasts up until a little while ago but I’m up and running now and I wish I hadn’t left it so long to peel back those lotus flower like leaves.

Spiky artichokes

Globe artichokes are a member of the thistle family, one look at their spiky leaves and downy middle and that’s not hard to see.  Grown mainly throughout the Med globe artichokes are a staple in Italian cooking, so much so that the Italian bible The Silver Spoon dedicates six pages of recipes to this peculiar looking vegetable.  They’re full of fibre, iron, calcium and phosphorous and are more versatile than you might imagine.

Smooth artichokes

I love sociable food and that’s exactly what globe artichokes are.  I’ve eaten them four times in the last couple of weeks, each time in different social settings, peeling the leaves and dipping them in flavoured oils or mayonnaise.   The weather has been glorious here, it’s not an exaggeration to say it’s been positively Mediterranean, so sitting outside with friends with cold glasses of wine or beer, picking, dipping and chatting has been something quite memorable.

 

If you’ve never cooked and eaten a globe artichoke then here’s my new found method and a recipe for stuffing them too.

First of all you have to remove the spikes, they are fierce – not all artichokes have thorns, some are smooth but if they’re spiky then you’ll want to get rid of them before you make any attempt at preparing them.  This is where a pair of sharp, good kitchen scissors come into their own.  Snip away at all the spikes, carefully opening up the artichoke too to reveal more leaves that are folded up with sharp tips.  Some of the artichokes I’ve had recently have looked like they have feline claws, very surreal.   Cut away some of the tougher leaves at the base of the artichoke too.  Get into the centre of the veg to then remove the choke – the feathery, fluffy seed head.  You can usually scoop it out with a teaspoon and a bit of brute force.

Afterwards, fill a large pan with salted water, add some lemon wedges and garlic cloves, bashed a bit but no need to peel too carefully, bring it to the boil and then drop in the trimmed artichokes.   Cook for around 10 minutes, depending on the size of the veg.  The leaves should be softer and have some give.

Drain upside down and then serve.  To eat them peel away the leaves and dip into a flavoured oil, we used olive oil with slices of garlic, salt, rosemary and slices of chilli or good garlic mayonnaise.  Use your teeth to scrape just the bottom of the leaf, the succulent part, you’ll know it when you feel it.  Have a big bowl handy too for all the discarded leaves.  My friend Wayne likened eating artichokes like this to eating mussels, vegetarian mussels in this case.

Once you’ve eaten all the leaves you’ll be left with the heart.  Slice it up and share it, it’s very good.  If you’re cooking lots of smaller artichokes  you might want to reserve these and preserve them in olive oil for anti-pasti or for a pizza topping.  We scoffed all of ours, there was no chance of saving them.

 

Sounds like a lot of work but it’s not really.  Here’s another recipe for making more of a main dish of artichokes.  I’ve used some leftover pasta sauce along with some stale sourdough bread that’s been made into breadcrumbs and Parmesan style cheese.  The Italians love to stuff theirs with sausage meat and herbs but I think anything goes here really.

Stuffed Globe Artichokes

Serves 2-4
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 30 minutes
Total time 45 minutes
Dietary Vegetarian
Meal type Main Dish, Side Dish, Starter
Misc Serve Hot

What you will need

  • 2 Large or 4 small globe artichokes (trimmed of all spikes and chokes removed)
  • olive oil (for drizzling)
  • 1 lemon (cut into wedges)
  • 6 heaped tablespoons tomato pasta sauce
  • 1 thick slice sourdough (grated into breadcrumbs)
  • wedge Parmesan style cheese (grated)
  • handful basil (torn)
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic

Instructions

Step 1 Prepare the artichoke by snipping away all the spikes or thorns with a pair of kitchen scissors, open up the leaves too to find any curled up inside. Remove the very tough leaves from the bottom near the stalk and then remove the choke - the seed head. You can usually do this by digging it out with a teaspoon
Step 2 Bring a large pan of water with lemon wedges and cloves of garlic to the boil, add the artichokes and cook for around 5-10 minutes, depending on their size. The leaves should have some give.
Step 3 Once cooked drain the artichokes upside down to remove all the water. You can either serve them like this by peeling off the leaves and dipping them into flavoured oil or mayonnaise until you come to the heart which can be sliced and shared, or continue and stuff them.
Step 4 Mix the pasta sauce with the breadcrumbs, basil and cheese, leaving a little cheese for sprinking on the top. You could add anything at this point. Cooked sausage meat is popular in Italy. Use your imagination.
Step 5 Turn the drained artichokes the right way and place in an ovenproof dish, start stuffing with the filling, fill to the heart but make sure you add mixture between the leaves too. Sprinkle with some cheese and drizzle with olive oil. Cover the dish with foil.
Step 6 Bake in a hot oven - around 200C Fan / 220C / Gas 7 for around 20 minutes, depending on the size of the vegetables. Remove the foil and let brown for a further five minutes. The leaves should be soft, the filling hot and cheese melted. Timings will depend on the size of the artichoke. Discard any tough leaves after cooking and dig in.

 

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