Friday, 5 August 2016

The King of Vegetables - Stuffed Artichokes (Carciofi Ripieni)


Mamma has always been a keen researcher of all things herbal and remedial, and most of her favourite books are based around these topics.  Amongst the seasonal vegetables planted in their garden, you are bound to find some strange looking 'erbe' (herbs) that she has selectively planted.  Ask her what they are and she would happily engage in conversation with you about their medicinal values and how to prepare brews to remedy this and that.  So it is not surprising to know that I learnt a little about the health benefits of artichokes from her as well.  Did you know that eating artichokes improves digestion; its fibrous bracts (petals) are high in dietary fibre, rich in antioxidants and have significant properties that aid in healthy liver function?  Read on and you will learn more...

Ever since I can remember, my parents garden has provided us with most of our seasonal fruits and vegetables, and anything they couldn't grow was bought from the local market. A visit to the market was always an adventure, and to this day it often excites me to see boxes of fresh produce, like these beautiful globe artichokes from R & J Mazza Pty Ltd. 

Ross Mazza, Director of R & J Mazza Pty Ltd and his lovely wife Josephine, have developed this very informative website where you will find everything you need to know about artichokes from their history, nutritional benefits, right through to the varied delicious recipes that are easy to follow and make.  One could certainly eat their way through a field of artichokes trialling all these recipes.

I remember visiting their farm with my husband, when we were just newlyweds.  We were doing the rounds getting to know the extended family from my husband's side that live in Werribee.  At the time their father Giovanni took us on a tour of the property, showing us fields filled with artichokes and recounting with much pride and enthusiasm his story of how he began growing them in the 1940's for his family and then in the 1950's, on a small scale selling commercially to immigrants from Italy who had settled nearby.  Over time, the farm has expanded with the appreciation and demand for this vegetable. Ross and Josephine have kindly supplied me with these photos of the property they now manage, and yes we are long overdue for another visit.











Josephine @rjmazza_artichokes regularly posts recipes and facts related to this ancient Mediterranean vegetable and demystifies its preparation and varied uses.  Once known by its Latin name - Cynara Scolymus, the Globe Artichoke is the edible flower bud of a thistle plant.  Many refer to it as the 'King of Vegetables' due to its shape being like a king's crown.  If left to develop, the artichoke will blossom into an extraordinary spiky, purple flower producing a plentiful supply of sticky scented pollen that attracts many bees, in turn producing a fine quality artichoke honey. 






We are currently in the midst of artichoke season in Australia with the peak season being from mid-April to mid-October and they are one of my favourite winter vegetable that I associate with Italian cooking.  I try to cook artichokes at least three times in the season and then buy preserved artichokes in brine or oil to get me through the other months. I must admit though that I haven't been very adventurous in how I cook them, always following mamma's recipe for filled artichokes gently stewed in a broth of white wine with aromatics.  This however will soon change as I have discovered other ways of cooking  this vegetable through Josephine's delicious recipes.  

There is an art in eating stuffed globe artichokes as explained by The Cook and the Curator.  I remember the first time I was introduced to this vegetable and thinking, how am I supposed to eat this?  To me it looked like a scary stuffed cactus and although I loved vegetables, this was not in my mind one that belonged to this food group.  Once I was shown how and tasted the soft, buttery artichoke flesh and moist chewy bread filling, I was hooked.  Over time, I developed an appreciation and acquired  a taste for its liquorish undertones.  The much enjoyed experience of eating with my hands, plucking each layer until reaching that tender heart is one that I still look forward to.  My husband also recalls the enjoyment of throwing the chewed bracts into a communal bowl as though he was playing briscola and claims, you should never chop the tops off as it provides you with a better grip to fling the bracts into the bowl.


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 Stuffed Artichokes - Carciofi Ripieni


Mamma has always cooked "all'occhio" with no exact measurements and I have also cooked this way when making this dish.  To be able to share it with you, it is only appropriate that quantities and measurements are provided. These stuffed artichokes are an adaptation of mamma's and Josephine's recipe, which I was thrilled to find on their website.  Minor modifications have been made with the inclusion of white wine in the cooking process, as mamma always adds wine for extra flavouring.  Josephine suggests adding slices of lemon instead for extra tang, which I believe is in keeping with the Sicilian tradition.

Ingredients

4 medium globe artichokes,
¾ cup breadcrumbs (I like to use fresh bread crumbs that I process finely)
¼ cup parmesan cheese
¼ cup finely chopped parsley  
2 cloves finely chopped garlic 
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

Extra Ingredients

1 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste
1 cup of white wine (optional - an ingredient mamma & I add for extra flavour) 
2 slices of lemon (optional - an ingredient Josephine adds for an extra tangy flavour instead of the wine)
1 lemon cut into pieces to add to bowl of water


Preparing the Globe Artichoke

Chop the stem off at the base of the globe and set aside.  Remove some of the dark older outer bracts.  I like to slice a 1/3 off the top of the artichoke as these ends are usually quite tough.  Alternatively you can omit this process as the ends can also serve as an edge to hold onto if using your fingers while eating. Spread apart the artichoke bracts and rinse under running water.  I then place them in a bowl of water with some pieces of lemon to make sure the cut edges of the artichoke don't oxidise or turn brown.  Leave the artichokes in water until ready to be filled.  

Meanwhile prepare the stuffing.  I place the breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, garlic, and parsley in a food processor and blitz until finely chopped and then add the eggs, oil and season to taste.  Mix all ingredients together to form a moist but firm mixture.  



Filling & Cooking the Globe Artichoke

Remove the artichoke from the water and place upside down on absorbent paper towel to drain before filling them.

Starting from the outer bracts and working towards the centre, place a small pinch of the breadcrumb stuffing on the inside of the bract and push down gently to the bottom. It will be difficult to stuff the inner bracts as the leaves are tighter and smaller, but you should be able to stuff more than half the bracts.  If you cut the tops off the artichokes, you should be able to add more stuffing towards the centre.

Once completed, place the filled artichokes in a large pot with 1 cup of water, 1 cup of white wine, oil and salt.  Drizzle some extra oil over the tops of the artichokes for added flavour and to keep the stuffing extra moist.

Peel the artichoke stems, to remove the thick stringy membrane.  Chop in 6-8 cm lengths and add to the pot.

Josephine suggests adding 2 slices of lemon to the pot for a tangy flavour.  This is an alternative to adding the white wine.

Place the pot with lid on, onto a stove top and cook until the artichoke is soft, approximately 45 minutes to an hour.  If you find that the liquid has evaporated before cooking time is over, continue to add some water until cooked and tender.  Just remember that the larger the artichoke, the longer the cooking time and more liquid is required.



Once cooked, use a slotted spoon to remove the artichokes from the pot onto a plate trying not to break them.    Reserve the cooking juices and pour over the artichokes just before serving.  There have been times when I have also added some peeled and chopped potatoes during the cooking process, making this a real winter warmer served with crusty bread and of course a glass of vino.  If you have never tasted or cooked with artichokes, now is the time if you live in the southern hemisphere.




Did You Know...
  • The globe artichoke was grown for consumption in Sicily, Italy in 500 BC., and also known to have been used as a digestive aid;
  • For centuries the Europeans have used artichokes as a natural substitute to rennet, to help coagulate milk and manufacture cheese;  
  • The English appreciated the silvery grey artichoke with its purple flowers more so as an ornamental plant featured in their beautiful gardens.  
This I learnt not from mamma but from R & J Mazza Pty Ltd.  All health and nutritional facts along with other delicious artichoke recipes can be found here. 


I would like to extend a special thank you to Ross and Josephine Mazza for allowing me to use photos of their property and selected information from their website.  We will see you soon!



2 comments:

  1. I adore artichokes! I discovered them when I lived in California and now look for them whenever they're in season. I've never been quite sure what to do with the big globe artichokes, but now I know, thanks to you! I'll be making this as soon as they come into season in France.

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  2. Hi Lisa, I hope you try making them this way. It truly is a complete meal! X

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