Rome’s annual artichoke festival, April 2008.
Recipe: Artichokes Filled with Almonds, Anchovy, and Thyme
Big, scary, painful globe artichokes. How do you deal with something so seemingly impenetrable? Frankly, they are a bit of an ordeal even for me, and I’ve been handling them for decades. They pierce your fingers, they turn your hands black, and they turn themselves black. I almost never see home cooks buying them. They seem to pile up on grocery shelves. Lately they’ve even been cheap, and still nobody’s buying them. Three for five dollars I’ve been seeing around Manhattan. So I’ve been buying them again.
I got out of the habit of dealing with those big globes when I began finding little “baby” artichokes in the markets about ten years ago or so (they are actually little secondary shoots that grow from the middle of a globe artichoke stalk). They have no chokes and need just a quick trimming to cook up tender. I don’t know what ever happened to them, but they seem to have disappeared. I asked the vegetable buyer for Citarella, and he told me he keeps ordering them, but they never arrive. I’ll get to the bottom of this and let you know. In the meantime, I’m going to show you something really excellent to make with the big ones.
Why go through all the work of prepping these things? Because they’re among the most delicious vegetables in the world. The heart of a globe artichoke is an amazing creation. It’s rich, it’s delicate, it’s creamy, it’s just intrinsically Italian. Artichokes are a little rugged, they work you hard, but they give back generously. To me an artichoke sums up the spirit of Southern Italy very nicely.
To be honest, for me the drawback in preparing big artichokes was never really the prep (I can get into all kinds of kitchen manual labor and enjoy it immensely). It was the waste. All the tough outer leaves are really crap. I know you can scrape them with your teeth, but that’s just so American, so boiled-artichokey. When I want to prepare them in true Italian style, I now just come to terms with the fact that a big part of them will wind up in the garbage, and I get on with it.
Stuffed artichokes can be fabulous, but they have to be done with a light touch. It took me a while to put the memory of ten-pound, full-of-sausage-and-soggy-bread, garlic-laden, outrageously greasy stuffed artichoke of my childhood, the standard Little Italy gross-out treatment, out of my mind for good, and create a new standard for myself.
Artichokes Filled with Almonds, Anchovy, and Thyme
(Serves 4 as a first course or a light dinner)
3 lemons, 2 cut in half, the other one sliced into thin rounds
4 globe artichokes
2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
½ cup sliced or slivered almonds, lightly toasted
¾ cup homemade, roughly textured dry breadcrumbs–not the powdery stuff you buy in a can
4 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
½ cup grated grana Padano or piave cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
8 big sprigs of thyme, stemmed
About a dozen basil leaves
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup light chicken broth
Set up a big bowl of cold water, and squeeze the cut lemon into it. Drop the lemon halves into the water.
Cut the stems from the artichokes, and drop them (the stems) into the lemon water. Cut off all the spiky tips from the artichokes (you’ll want to just give the tops a nice clean cut, taking off about an inch or so). Now pull off all the tough, dark green leaves until you get to the lighter green, tenderer ones (when eating, you’ll probably still have to scrape the first layer or two with your teeth, but after that they should be tender enough to eat in toto). Spread the leaves open so you can see inside to the fuzzy choke. Remove the chokes on all the artichokes by scooping them out with a melon baller or a grapefruit spoon (in my experience, the melon baller works best). Place the cleaned artichokes in the lemon water.
Take the artichoke stems from the water, and peel off all the tough outer skin. Chop the stems roughly.
Place the garlic, the almonds, and the artichoke stems in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until you have a uniform, rough chop. Add the anchovies, breadcrumbs, and the grana Padano or piave cheese. Season with salt and black pepper, and add about 3 tablespoons of olive oil and the juice from the remaining halved lemon. Pulse a few more times to blend everything, keeping the mixture slightly chunky (you don’t want a paste). Add the thyme and the basil, and pulse one or two more times, just to break up the herbs into pieces.
Stuff the insides of the artichokes with the breadcrumb mixture, and work some in between all the leaves as well. Place the artichokes, stuffing side up, in a wide shallow saucepan. Pour in the white wine and the chicken broth. Add the sliced lemons. If the liquid doesn’t come about ¾ way up the artichokes, add a little more wine or broth or water. Drizzle the tops of the artichokes with a little fresh olive oil, and bring the liquid to a boil. Turn down the heat, cover the pan, and simmer until the artichokes are tender, about 30 to 35 minutes. You can test by pulling off an outer leaf. If it pulls off easily, they’re ready.
Lift the artichokes from the liquid. I like to run the tops under a broiler for a minute, just to crisp up the crumbs, but it’s not essential. Serve either warm or at room temperature.