When most families get together for holidays and special occasions, everyone sits around a dining room table in Rockwellian fashion while the patriarch carves a roast beast. At my Italian family’s events, seventy-five people scarf down pounds of Italian sausage while the fraternal brotherhood of retirees complains in escalating fashion about the food not being ready yet. We have the typical American fixins’ like baked ham, deep-fried turkey, stuffing/dressing, potato salad, and mac and cheese, but there are also a couple of lasagnas, stuffed shells, fried eggplant, etc. One of the stars of the show is the stuffed artichokes. We haven’t seen them much at events since my grandmother died, so I decided to learn how to make them.
I’ve always been intimidated by this dish, but it’s not that difficult to make. Here’s everything you need:
- 4 large artichokes
- 1½ cups Italian bread crumbs
- 3/4 cup finely grated parmesan
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 tablespoons butter, melted
- olive oil
- salt & pepper to taste
To prep the artichokes, you cut the stems off at the base and cut a flat face on the tops. The top cut will remove most of the sharp leaf tips, but you still need to go all around each artichoke and snip off any pointy ends.
Like leeks, artichokes can be pretty dirty. You need to agitate and soak them in water to remove the dirt. My uncle Frankie says to put salt and lemon juice in the water but I don’t think that makes a difference. Just press down on the top cut to spread the leaves a little, squeeze the artichokes like you’re trying to wring a sponge, shake them really well in the water, and then leave them upside down for about fifteen minutes. The dirt will fall out and the leaves will spread a little.
While the artichokes are soaking, mix the stuffing. Just mince the parsley and garlic and mix it well with the bread crumbs and cheese. Store-bought bread crumbs are preferable to homemade here, unless you can grind them really fine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Remove the artichokes and squeeze and shake them dry. You want to hear some cracking when you squeeze. You need to break the inner leaves a little. Let them dry upside down on a towel. After ten minutes or so, set them in a sheet pan and divide the melted butter evenly between them. Then stuff the bread mixture into every nook and cranny, making sure to stretch and pull the leaves as you work. The goal is to have a little stuffing on every leaf. Don’t forget the outer leaves near the base.
Finally, put the artichokes in a steaming basket. They should fit snugly or they’ll fall apart. Drizzle olive oil over the tops. Steam the artichokes over medium-low heat for two and a half hours. Check after ninety minutes or so to see if you need to add more water.
When they’re finished steaming, you can just turn off the heat and keep them in the pot until they’re ready to be served. But one important thing I’ve learned is that the artichoke leaves will dry up and curl unless you keep them moist. So keep them covered until it’s time to eat. This is what they should look like when they’re done.
Finally, use your teeth to scrape the stuffing and artichoke meat off all the leaves. You know you’re doing it right if your fingertips start to prune.