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Big Italian Artichokes

Artichokes are in season. Serve them Italian-style and make sure to get one all to yourself to savor leaf by leaf.

I married into a big Italian family. Every get together is a 30-person-plus sit-down affair. The meals are tremendous. The table is laid out to perfection. Wine is open on the table and ready to pour. Meanwhile we've started on cocktails and are stuffing ourselves with appetizers like french bread with Nana's crab mold. Sauces simmer on the stove and roasts are spilling out of double ovens. When we finally sit down to dinner it can go on for hours. Glasses clinking, sisters talking over each other, cousins toasting cousins, the decibel level at mid-meal can climb to fantastic heights. 

It's a blast. 

One of the staples of these meals, if it's spring, is the artichoke, which is in season now at the . At one of my first meals with the family, I was given my own artichoke on a little plate beside my main dish. I'll admit it now, I found this to be a luxury. Almost an excess. Artichokes had always been for me, a shared thing. To be ripped apart by scavengers and double dipped in mayonaise until we all fought over the prized heart. 

Not so anymore. I can eat my artichoke as slowly as I like. Because it is ALL mine. What a notion.

I always wondered how people came to think of eating an artichoke. Like the thistle family it belongs in, it looks bristly and defensive. And when in bloom is curiously flamboyant with its purple bloom and spiky leaves. The name even speaks volumes. Artichoke comes from the Arabic "Ardi-Shoki" which means "ground thorny." That sounds about right. 

Artichokes were thought to have originated in North Africa or the Mediterranean, where the majority are still cultivated today mainly in Italy, France and Spain. Perhaps it's because of our similar climates but in the United States, California grows all of the artichokes. Literally. Nearly 100 percent of U.S. artichokes are grown here, mainly in nearby Monterey County.  

I love the process of eating an artichoke from the outside in, taking my time, stripping off the leaves until you get to the heart. There's something about that process. Also, it's a heck of a lot easier than making a dish that calls for many fresh artichoke hearts. You'd have to unceremoniously hack away too much plant in my opinion. 

This recipe is a perfect slow-eating artichoke dish. It was passed on from my husband's great Nonni Bisazza who passed it down the line to Nana Bisazza, who passed it on to us. She warned me that back then they cooked by taste, no measuring, so here's our best guess. 

Bisazza Stuffed Artichokes

Ingredients:

  • 3 Tbs bread crumbs
  • 1-2 Tbs parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbs fresh parsley chopped
  • 1 clove garlic
  • salt/pepper to taste
  • 3 medium artichokes
  • 1 Tbs olive oil

Directions:

Mix bread crumbs, cheese, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Cut the stems and tips off artichokes. Rinse. Pull the leaves apart and stuff the mixture lightly into the leaves. (Every leaf wont have the mixture in it.) Simmer in a steamer pot for about 45 min or until done. Drizzle with a little olive oil to finish. 

Serves 3 (Or more if you share.) 

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