A stuffed artichoke for Gloria.
Stuffed Artichokes with Parsley, White Wine, and Bread Crumbs
My mother, from Siracusa, made the best stuffed artichokes ever eaten. All I remember is grating the cheese, dicing parsley, and grating stale Italian bread into breadcrumbs. Some recipes I’ve read add green olives, eggs. . . . I do not recall either of those ingredients.
Could you please forward your recipe? Grazie.
Okay, this is a pretty bare-bones request for an elegantly simple, excellent thing to eat. But this delicate stuffed artichoke treatment is not what I grew up eating, nor did many of my Southern Italian-American friends. The Neapolitan-American style artichokes my grandmother turned out were among the heaviest, greasiest things I’ve ever eaten, stuffed to overflow, huge as a baby’s head (why would I say that?), with sausage, garlic, bread, and cheese, all sort of glued into a ball and all in one piece. They were like what I’d have been served at most red-sauce type places when I was a kid, and even now, as a matter of fact. (Where else could you get an artichoke like that nowadays?) When I think of what would be the opposite of delicate, I think of this artichoke. Solid, very solid. A meal in itself, except that it never was; it was always a starter at my grandmother’s. It’s not that I didn’t like it, exactly, but it was just so solid . Sometimes she’d even serve it topped with a tomato and green-pea sauce. Oh boy. Lovely for a sweltering afternoon in Napoli.
Gloria’s mother was from Siracusa, Sicily. Well that makes sense. Ortigia, the old part of the city, is one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever seen, and it has gorgeous pointy purple artichokes in its markets. I don’t remember eating stuffed artichokes there, but I did have sautéed ones, which seemed to be cooked in nothing but a little garlic, olive oil, and parsley. I have to say they may have been the best artichokes in my life. (Isn’t it funny how the best whatever in your life is never something that comes out of your own kitchen?)
I never had the pared-down artichokes Gloria describes at home. Even though my mother’s family is part Sicilian, the Neapolitans-my father’s side-took over in the kitchen, often with excellent results, except maybe where artichokes were concerned (they really shone with braciole and meatballs). But I tasted the things around town in fancier Italian restaurants, and I got the idea. Leave out the meat, go easy on the cheese and garlic, and let the artichokes do most of the talking. Fresh herbs, mainly parsley, are very important for flavor and for lightness. Oregano, mint, and/or rosemary are often included in smaller amounts. I’ve added a few sprigs of fresh marjoram, a floral-smelling herb that has become my standard replacement for the ubiquitous dried oregano that perfumes much of Southern Italian cooking, a taste I’ve become thoroughly sick of. Bread crumbs are an extremely important ingredient in many Sicilian dishes, serving as a carrier of flavor, a texture maker, and a stretcher for expensive protein (not in this case, though), and also valued for their own subtle flavor. I toast them lightly before stuffing so they don’t get too packed down and soggy, and to give them a nutty taste.
Going through my big and growing pile of Sicilian cookbooks, I found many artichoke recipes. Since it’s an old Sicilian crop, they’ve had plenty of time to get creative. One of my favorite Sicilian books, one I picked up from a souvenir seller on the beach in Mondello, outside Palermo, was written by a person named Eufemia Azzolina Pupella (I swear that’s her name), and it’s loaded with great photos and strangely translated recipes that have taken me much effort to figure out but have been worth it. Her recipe for stuffed artichokes, called Carciofi Bellavista in Tagame (tagame is a skillet), was the model for my own. She includes anchovies in the breadcrumb mix, something I often add. Capers and olives are also both usual additions, but I tend to leave them out, finding their flavors overpowering. To sum up my feelings about stuffed artichoke cooking, I’d have to say that the less you add, the more you receive in true artichoke flavor. The most important ingredients are extra-virgin olive oil, crumbs made from good bread, and salt.
Gloria, here’s my recipe. I hope it brings back memories for you.
Stuffed Artichokes with Parsley, White Wine, and Bread Crumbs
(Serves 4 as a substantial first course or a lunch)
The juice and zest from 1 large lemon
4 globe artichokes (on the small side)
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
2 small fresh garlic cloves, minced
1 1/4 cups homemade, dry bread crumbs, lightly toasted
1 cup grated Grana Padano cheese
1 packed cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, well chopped
5 sprigs fresh marjoram, the leaves chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Set up a large pot of water and bring it to a boil. Add half the lemon juice and a sprinkling of salt. Cut the stems off the artichokes so they can sit upright, and trim about 1/2 inch from their tops. Add the artichokes to the boiling water, and boil for about 15 minutes, or until you can easily pull off an outer leaf (I usually weight them with a small colander so they don’t keep bobbing up). Drain the artichokes and run them under cool water. Now turn them, top end down, on some paper towels, so all the water can drain out. Remove about three layers of tough outer leaves, and then gently open the artichokes up so the leaves spread out.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Coat a baking dish with olive oil and sit the artichokes in it upright. Pour the white wine over the artichokes, letting the wine pool in the bottom of the dish, and then season them lightly with salt and black pepper.
In a small bowl, mix together the garlic, bread crumbs, Grana Padano, parsley, marjoram, and lemon zest. Season well with salt and black pepper. Add 1/2 cup of olive oil, and mix until everything is just blended. Stuff this mixture in between the leaves (there should be just enough for a light stuffing; you don’t want to overdo it and drown out the artichoke flavor). Drizzle with a little more olive oil, and give them a another little seasoning of salt and black pepper. Squeeze on the remaining lemon juice. Bake, uncovered, until lightly browned and fragrant, about 30 minutes, adding a little warm water to the bottom of the dish if the wine evaporates. Spoon the dish juices over each artichoke several times, and then let them sit about 10 minutes before serving. Serve hot or at room temperature.