A is for Artichokes (and also for Almonds)
Growing up, artichokes were a springtime treat, steamed and served with little ramekins filled with melted butter and lemon juice for dipping the leaves into before we scraped off all that artichokey goodness from the leaves with our teeth. Simplicity in itself. Eventually, I met my darling and was introduced to his mother’s sublime, steamed artichokes stuffed with a magical triumvirate of bread crumbs, parsley and garlic, lovingly laced with extra virgin olive oil.
“What about some Parmesan?” I would ask her, filled with ideas of improvement, “or even Pecorino, maybe some anchovies?” To which her reply was a shrug, a gesture, the merest raising of an eyebrow to suggest ever so gently that this would be gilding the lily.
We have eaten our artichokes following my mother-in-law’s original recipe for many years, but recently I’ve been searching for a delicious way to enjoy these without all the bread-y stuffing. Trust me, it is not without trepidation that I seek to alter this old favorite which my husband feels is a sacred, sacred ambrosia, not to be messed with ever. But as loyal readers will know, we are eating too much bread, and it behooves us to cut it out where and when we can without sacrificing flavor. I was quite pleased when I got the family stamp of approval on the following iteration of the original recipe. The secret ingredient is ground almonds, which I love because it complements the whole Mediterranean lineage of this dish, while also adding the nutritional advantages of almonds. Of course, if you have a nut allergy in the house, bread crumbs make more sense.
I hesitate to go on about the nutritional wow of this dish, because I want you to enjoy it for its succulent, earthy yumminess — did I mention that artichokes are considered to be aphrodisiacs? Briefly, consider what I’ve already written about parsley, and what you know about the wonders of garlic, add to that the health benefits of artichokes, which studies have shown may help digestion, raise HDL cholesterol (the good kind) and enhance good gut bacteria, and I hope you’ll be tempted to take the plunge.
These stuffed artichokes probably do not fall under the category of speedy weeknight supper, but they are a lovely idea for a slow-food Sunday evening in spring. The are best served warm or at room temperature. If you want your artichokes cold, I would go for a proper artichoke vinaigrette instead.
- 4 globe artichokes
- 1 large or two small bunches of flat leaf parsley, washed and thoroughly dried so it doesn’t go all swampy in the food processor.
- 2 cups ground almonds (I have used both almond meal/flour and 2 cups roasted unsalted almonds which I then ground very fine in the food processor. Both are yummy.)
- 6-8 garlic cloves, peeled
- 3/4 teaspoon salt and some fresh grindings of pepper
- Juice of a lemon
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Prepare the artichokes as follows. Chop off the long stem so that each one will stand up without falling over. Snap off the tough outermost bottom leaves. Use scissors to trim the tops of all the leaves, so that they have a nice flat edge. While holding the artichoke under running water, insert a finger in amongst all the leaves to clean the artichoke out and open it up. (At this point, some recipes call for clearing out the choke — the inedible thistley bits at the very center — with a spoon. I never do, loving the ritual of scraping the choke away from the lavender-grey heart after I’ve eaten my way in through all the leaves.) Leave each prepared artichoke in a basin of water with a spritz of lemon juice (so the cut edges don’t turn brownish) while preparing the others.
- In a food processor, combine the almonds, parsley and garlic. Process until uniformly confetti-like. Add most of the salt and pepper.
- Drain the artichokes and, working one artichoke at a time, use a small spoon to stuff a bit of the almond-parsley mixture down between each leaf. The idea here is that when the artichoke is cooked and you pull a leaf off, it will have a little mouthful of stuffing on it. Don’t get your knickers in a twist if you cannot get stuffing down into each crevice. This part of the process may take some time (15 minutes or so). Practice your mindful meditation at this point.
- When you have stuffed all the artichokes, put about an inch of water into a pot that will hold all of them. Place the artichokes in the pot. They should fit snugly. Add a spritz of lemon juice and some more salt and pepper. Drizzle the artichokes with a LIBERAL dose of extra virgin olive oil. Scatter any leftover stuffing into the water. Put the pot on a high heat, uncovered until the water boils, and then turn the heat down to low, cover and steam gently for about 40-45 minutes depending on the size and freshness of your artichokes. Check every now and then to make sure that there is still water, using these opportunities to baste the artichokes with some of the liquid.
- To serve, lift the artichokes out with a large slotted spoon and plate each artichoke in a shallow bowl. Spoon a bit of the remaining cooking broth around and over them. Make sure there is a big empty bowl in the center of the table to collect the discarded artichoke leaves for your compost pile. Serves 4.