2019: D… A to Z Italian Famiglia Foods and Memories: Dad’s Stuffed Artichokes
I’m back for “Year 4” of the A to Z… April Challenge!
My first year of this challenge had me racking my brain for a writing topic… especially as I didn’t quite understand the process. But finally I came up with 2016: Southern Foods and Memories. They said write what you know… and being a girl born in the South… well this was what I knew. 2017: Conversations with Mama was a somewhat easy one for me as I’d journaled our conversations for years so I researched some of my favorite topics to write on. 2018: All About Nancy Drew has been my favorite topic so far, and I don’t know if I’ll ever come up with another to equal it. It literally had me researching every day for over six months… researching, reading and perfecting every post. I was totally consumed with Nancy Drew for months… and still am! I didn’t want to “not” participate this year, but I was drawing a blank. Finally, mid February, I came up with writing on my husband’s Italian family foods and memories. I did my Southern foods the first year, so it was time to finally give his family their due! I’m also participating in the yearly 52 Ancestors 52 Stories this year… I am really feeling over-extended this month. April is a tough month for me, as we usually are traveling to my mother’s and my son in Florida… but somehow I’ll manage!
I think I can safely say that before marrying into an Italian family, I had never eaten any of the foods I’m blogging on this month… such an underprivileged child I was! Growing up in the South where we ate fried chicken, okra, black-eyed peas, butter beans, mashed potatoes, creamed style corn and southern biscuits! Oh My…!
Dad’s Stuffed Artichokes
Artichokes are a vegetable I never heard of until encountering it on my first Thanksgiving with my in-laws. I remember watching my father in law prepare them and thought that this is the most oddest looking vegetable with pointy leaves that I have ever seen! It definitely wasn’t anything that my grandfather’s in Georgia had grown in their gardens… and those pointy leaves definitely give you a hurting!
Preparing the stuffed artichokes was only prepared by my father in law… it seemed it was a dish that his Sicilian mother prepared often for the family. My mother in law’s mother never made them, so she left the preparation to him… but she enjoyed eating them. Whenever my father in law cooked… it was a process… he never rushed to prepare anything. I definitely see where my husband inherited that trait from. Dad was quite meticulous as he diced and sliced all he used into uniform sizes.
Artichokes are a popular vegetable grown in Sicily and probably why Nonni cooked them so often – a food remembered from her home country. My husband remembers his grandmother cooking them often when he spent time there in the summer.
That first encounter with being offered a stuffed artichoke… was a flat “no thank you“… but I was inquisitive. It was quite the process in eating them… pulling off each leaf and sucking and scraping off whatever was on there… they sure made it look like fun… I kinda felt left out!
It was several years later, after watching, and feeling like I was missing out on something really good, did I venture to finally accept a stuffed artichoke at Thanksgiving. It didn’t take me long to actually look forward to those artichokes and it wasn’t soon after that when my father in law asked me to make them for the holidays. He was passing the baton to me… sure hope I made him proud! I learned from the best!
The picture isn’t showing exactly how larger than life these really were… I sure wanted to make them day… but now it’ll be another day!
Ready to buy…. The best artichokes are not necessarily the biggest ones on the counter, so bigger is not always better! But do look for a nice size with leaves closed and tight… if the artichoke is soft and has loose leaves…. buy another day! They also sell baby artichokes, but I don’t use them for stuffing… but they are great as an appetizer… prepared with almost the same ingredients.
Don’t forget to buy a couple lemons when you buy artichokes… I’ll explain later.
Preparing: If I have several artichokes to clean and stuff I usually fill my 5 quart pot with cold water and cut a lemon, squeezing lemon juice in the water and leaving the lemons in there also. This is where I put my artichokes after cutting.
To Clean: This is the fun part… well, not really! All those pointy stickers on the top of the leaves must be cut off. I cut down about half of the leaf… and that means on every leaf. I didn’t say it was easy… and yes you probably will get pricked a few times when doing this, but it’s so worth the pain! After cutting all those prickly tops off, I cut the very top of the artichoke off, maybe about a half-inch to an inch down. I then rub that cut part with half a lemon to help it not turn brown… yes it’s one of those veggies that when exposed to air… turns brown. And as artichokes grown on a stem, you need to also cut the bottom under the stem off… so your artichoke sits flat in the pan.
Next, you need to open up the artichoke so the inside can be stuffed… and find that pesky choke, which must be pulled out. That took me some time to wrap my head around that, but once you get a mouthful of “hairs” you’ll understand. In the center of the artichoke, and before the heart, is what is known as the choke; look inside, after slightly opening up the middle of the artichoke, and you’ll see it. I take a teaspoon and slowly work around the sides to lift out… it takes a few tries before you think you have it all. Don’t overdo or you’ll have dug up the heart also, which sits just underneath… and is considered the best part of the artichoke. If you have no idea of what I’m talking about… I suggest googling and watch a youtube on how to lift it up. There are some people who just leave it and carefully eat around it… I’d rather get rid of it and not have to pick around it at the end.
Anytime you aren’t handing the artichokes before stuffing, keep them in the lemon water… keeps them looking fresh.
To Stuff: Stuffing is a matter of choice, some people do and some don’t. They actually are pretty much a meal of their own when stuffed… especially with a bread stuffing. Often people even cut them in half and share… after all, you’ve just eaten turkey and stuffing with all the trimmings… not much room left!
- artichokes (any amount you want to stuff)
- artichoke stems (see below)
- bread crumbs (seasoned)
- parmesan grating cheese
- 2 – 3 garlic cloves (chopped) depends on amount of artichokes using
- salt & pepper
- EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
- 1 – 2 lemons
- pepperoni (optional: small amount chopped)
- artichoke stems: (optional) My father in law always saved the stems. He’d peel the outside bark off, leaving a tender stem. He diced several of them up to throw in his stuffing. This can be optional as it is a timely process, but it adds flavor… and because he always did it… I feel compelled to dice just enough up until I tire of doing it.
- Bake 350 oven – Cover artichokes – steaming helps to cook them. Cooking time varies with the amount your cooking and size of artichokes. After adding water to the pan, and before I put in oven, I gently take a knife and make slits down into the stuffing, then I drizzle with oil and sometimes even ladle some of the water in pan over them. That helps to moisten all the stuffing you’ve packed in. Cooking time abt. 30 minutes, but you’ll tell when they’ve softened enough. They need to be basted along as they cook… be sure the stuffing is staying moist all the way down by poking with a knife or fork before you baste. They need lots of TLC!
Prepare stuffing: In bowl, add breadcrumbs, which is guesswork as to how many artichokes you have; maybe a quarter cup per artichoke. Add all ingredients and drizzle enough olive oil over to just wet everything together. It depends on how many artichokes you’re preparing as to ingredients used. Pepperoni can be substituted with anything you might fancy or not… crabmeat would be awesome.
Stuff artichokes in the center, packing slightly down… sprinkle stuffing in many of the leaves as you want… I didn’t say this was going to be a quick process! They can be cooked on top of the stove and or in the oven… I have cooked both ways. Place in a deep pan with just enough water to cover them almost halfway up the side of the artichoke… but not really halfway. Drizzle olive oil on top of each artichoke, add salt and pepper to water. As they cook, ladle juice over the artichokes… using a knife or fork to prick the stuffing, so the juice goes down into the stuffing to keep it wet. Cook until the leaves just pull gently away. Try and not overcook… which I’ve done… as they will totally fall apart when lifted out of the pan.
To Serve: Usually they’re served in a soup bowl, drizzled with a small amount of the liquid cooked they simmered in, but that’s optional. We usually ate them after our meal… it seems to be more an after-dinner accompanant… at least it was in hubby’s family. By the time I finished my meal, I never had much room for a whole one, so I often shared one with him. I always say I’m going to make them as just a one-meal dish, but it never seems to happen.
Baby Artichokes: They aren’t easy to find and sometimes it depends on which grocery locale you go to which might actually carry them… usually only around holidays.
Baby Artichoke Appetizer: I quarter or even half these; have a lemon to rub on some of the cut edges. Throw all in a greased baking dish drizzled with olive oil. Sprinkle light or heavy with seasoned bread crumbs, chopped garlic, parmesan cheese, S&P, parsley… basically use what you would stuff your artichokes with. Once you’ve added that on top of artichokes, gently mix all together. Drizzle more olive oil on top… can add a little amount of water and cover with tinfoil so they steam. Bake 350. I keep checking on them till they’re done, as they cook faster and you don’t want them to dry out. I’d suggest setting timer for 15 minutes to start with. You might need to add more oil or water if you feel they’re too dry. Hubby always shakes his head with me when he asks how long to cook something, as I say… “I don’t know, till I think it’s done.” It’s an easy appetizer to prepare ahead and sit back in the fridge until ready to cook.
Dad enjoyed climbing up in his red maple tree with the grandchildren.
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