When I was little, I believed my mother could do magic. She would turn potatoes into soft pillows called gnocchi, apples into a wonderful strudel and trim down artichokes with fat stalks into delightful stuffed artichokes with a cheesy garlicky filling. I couldn’t believe the wonders that came out of her kitchen.
I do believe that artichokes (carciofi in Italian) are amazing. If picked early, you can trim the ends of the tiny carciofi, braise them with lots of garlic and eat them whole. You can stuff larger artichokes, removing the central hairy choke. And if you leave them on the plant, the hairy choke becomes the center of a magnificently strange flower. All rather wonderful really.
The way my mother transforms artichokes into a rather special dish takes some time, particularly trimming them. I took some photos of her last week as she trimmed three artichokes we were having for lunch. She worked very quickly, discarding the tough outer leaves and cutting the tips of leaves more towards the centre. She removed the tiny hairy choke in the center of the artichokes with a teaspoon. Ideally you want to buy artichokes that are too immature to have the choke, but this isn’t always possible.
This video will show you all you want to know about preparing artichokes. The first minute will show you how to trim the outside and around the seven minute mark, you will see how to remove the hairy choke (in the video he removes it after steaming, but my mother removes it beforehand to make space for the stuffing to sit).
Once each artichoke had been trimmed, and the choke removed, they are dropped into a large bowl of acidulated water (made that way by squeezing half a lemon into it) so that they don’t go brown. Just before stuffing, you prise apart the leaves to make space for the delicious eggy cheesy mixture around the center of the artichoke.
Once cooked, the outer leaves are broken off with your fingers and the flesh on each artichoke leaf is pulled off with your teeth. It sounds strange if you have never seen it done. Here is a short video so you can see what it looks like to eat artichoke leaves. When you get to the inner leaves, you can eat them whole, using your knife and fork. The heart, just under the stuffing, is incredible. It is such a heavenly dish – worth every bit of the effort!
Livia’s stuffed artichokes (Carciofi ripieni di Livia)
3 large artichokes
1 lemon, squeezed into a large bowl of water
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
handful parsley leaves, finely chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten
50 – 75g grated parmigiano cheese (how much you use depends on how large the eggs are)
zest of half a lemon
salt and pepper to taste
dash olive oil (for cooking)
1/3 cup white wine
Prepare the artichokes by removing the stem and the top third of the artichoke. Trim the tips of outer leaves with large scissors. Remove the small flesh-less central leaves hairy choke (if there is one) with a small teaspoon. Separate the outer leaves to make space for the stuffing. You can see the video – link above – to show you how this is done if this is your first time preparing artichokes. Place the prepared artichokes in acidulated water and set aside.
To make the stuffing, place the garlic, parsley, eggs, lemon zest, parmigiano (as much as you need to make the mixture thick – it should not be too runny) and salt and pepper to taste. You could also add a spoonful of breadcrumbs if the mixture is still a bit too runny. Add a dash of olive oil to the base of a medium sized saucepan. Drain the artichokes and prise apart the leaves to make space for the stuffing. Place them in the saucepan where they should all fit snugly in their upright position. Place the filling in the centre of the artichoke and between the more outer leaves (see photo above). Place the wine in the pan and then enough water so it comes half way up the artichoke. Cook on a low to medium heat for about an hour. When they are cooked, a fork should be able to pierce through the artichoke fairly easily ans the water should have almost completely evaporated.