I grew up in an Italian family. On special occasions (holidays mainly), my grandparents would make stuffed artichokes. The stuffed artichokes would always appear at the dinner table after everyone finished the main meal. In fact, because they always appeared at the end of the meal, my brother once (seriously) referred to them as dessert as a child!
As I got older, it seemed like stuffed artichokes were appearing less frequently at the holiday table. My grandmother would always ask right before she sat down at the table, “Anyone want anything else?” And I would always pipe up with “Artichokes!” She’d always tell me she wasn’t paying $1.50 or $2.00 a piece (whatever the going rate was at the time). I always thought that was a nice way of telling me to buzz off and that the real reason was that she didn’t want to go through the hassle of making them.
A few years ago when I went back to upstate NY to visit them one summer, I stopped by the grocery store and bought some artichokes. I figured if I showed up with them, she couldn’t use the “I’m not paying $X” excuse and then I could learn for myself how to make them. Guess what? They are actually real easy to make.
I was in the grocery store the other day and noticed the artichokes looked especially good (even though they were $2.49 each) so I picked up two to make and I finally made them last night.
Choosing an Artichoke
Choose artichokes that are medium sized (about the size of your fist). If you choose artichokes that are too large, they won’t be as tender once you steam them. You also want to look for artichokes that have nice tight, compact leaves and also an even color (though some brown spots are OK) Be careful when handling an artichoke, the leaves have pointy tips!
Preparing an Artichoke
Real Simple has a great article and video on how to prepare an artichoke. The steps there are not in the same order as I do them but they are all basically the same.
I start by cutting the stem off the base of the artichoke so that it can sit flat. I then cut off the top 1/2 of the artichoke (in the video, she does not cut off as much of the top as I do). Once the top is cut from the artichoke, I take kitchen scissors and trim the pointy tips of the outer leaves. After this is complete, I run the artichokes under cool water and set them aside.
Preparing the Stuffing
In a food processor, I break up a few slices of plain ol’ white bread. For this mixture, I used 5 slices of bread. I had enough to stuff the two artichokes I bought with enough left over to stuff at least one more (possibly two more). I also added in a bunch of parsley (1 bunch, stems removed) and two handfuls of grated parmesan cheese. Pulse until everything is chopped up/combined and add garlic salt to taste (my grandmother never actually measured anything. It was always a handful of this, a pinch of that, and by taste. It used to drive me nuts to not have actual measurements and now here I am passing along the “recipe” with the same sort of measurements.). Once you have everything “to taste”, transfer the mixture into a large mixing bowl.
Stuffing the Artichokes
Take your prepared artichoke and hold it over the mixing bowl. At this point I use my thumbs to gently spread the leaves apart from the center outward. Then I start throwing the bread crumb mixture onto the artichoke, shaking and spreading the leaves to get it as stuffed as possible. In the collage above, you can see how I use my thumbs to gently spread the leaves allowing the bread crumbs to fill the spaces. Once you have stuffed the artichokes as full as possible, drizzle some olive oil over the top of them (yes I’m Italian and yes I buy the big tin of extra virgin olive oil). When buying olive oil, be sure to get extra virgin olive oil which had the most superior flavor. And as grandpa always told me, “Always buy the most expensive olive oil you can afford”. Olive oil apparently is not something you skimp on in an Italian family.
Steaming the Artichokes
Once the artichokes are stuffed and olive oiled, it is time to cook/steam them. In the past, I’ve placed the artichokes in a big pot with 1-1/2″ of water in the bottom, covered them and turned the stove on medium-low to steam them. This time I got out my Ostar steamer and used it instead. I think I will always use my steamer from now on. Steam the artichokes until the outer leaves easily pull off the artichoke and are tender when you scrape them with your teeth (for these two artichokes, I steamed them for 50 minutes). Once the artichokes have finished steaming, let them cool for at least 15 minutes before eating them or putting them in the refrigerator.
Eating the Artichoke
I (thankfully) did not get any pictures showing how to eat an artichoke but the nice people over at Simply Recipes were kind enough to show a picture of how to eat an artichoke. Once you get closer to the center of the artichoke, the leaves are tender enough to eat whole. When you get real close to the center of the artichoke, the ends of the tender leaves will have “pinchers” on them so you want to be sure not to eat that. Eventually you will get to the fuzzy, inedible center known as the choke. Remove this portion with a spoon. What is left is the tender and delicious artichoke heart. I sprinkle a little salt on it and eat it up while saying, “Mmmmmm!”
Do you have any questions about artichokes, the stuffing or eating process? If so, leave me a comment and ask!