Tag Archives: artichokes

The ‘Crunchy Artichoke’ at Osteria della Piazzetta dell’Erba

the (crunchy) artichoke of your dreams

Easter is always a time of feasting and friends, yet Easter 2017 will go down as a personal record on both counts, thanks to some wonderful new people in my life and the chance to discover some of the extraordinary food, wine, and traditions of Umbria. This eno-gastron-amica weekend extravaganza, as I’m calling it, had my heart bursting, my waistline bulging, and my culinary curiosity on overdrive. Too many for a comprehensive list, the flavors and stories I encountered across that idyllic swathe of Italian landscape stretching from Perugia past Assisi and on towards Montefalco included Vernaccia di Cannarra and a funfetti cake called ciaramicola, made specially by a local pastry chef for Easter breakfast; Sagrantino and Grecchetto (enough said); the chance witnessing of a quirky tradition involving locals of all ages cracking eggs in the Montefalco piazza as part of an ancient local tournament of sorts (stay tuned); a gorgeous, sinfully creamy pâté (nonna’s cherished recipe, naturally); and an Umbrian Easter specialty called torta di pasqua that about changed my life (imagine the fluffy, soft sponge of a pandoro but savory and filled with cheese!). Oh, and then there was the whole ‘Christmas at Easter’ thing, a feast, well….precisely as its name suggests! Complete with Christmas pudding and secret santa.

Though not easy to label any one of the dishes I tasted in Umbria as the ‘best’, an indisputable contender was an intriguing and lovely-to-behold starter served at the Osteria della Piazzetta dell’Erba in Assisi. The carciofo croccante, or crunchy artichoke, caught my and my friend’s attention as we sat outside in the tiny piazza where once a small yet thriving vegetable market was held, now reduced to a lone vegetable vendor named Novella, known and by all accounts beloved by locals (I wanted her to adopt me).

Novella, vegetable vendor in Assisi’s Piazzetta dell’Erba

The solemn Good Friday procession making its way along the nearby medieval thoroughfare had dominated my attention until the moment that artichoke arrived. At the first bite, I knew it was something to consider more closely (and taste again), so the next day we returned to the Osteria, where chef Matteo Bini kindly took a few minutes from his busy day to tell me about this dish.  As its name promises, this artichoke is, firstly, crunchy. But then, like any masterful texture combination must do, it moves from an outer crunchiness to the tenderness of an artichoke cooked to perfection in the alla romana fashion: seasoned and steamed, in this case with the addition of capers and garlic. It is then filled with a potato mash flavored with anchovy, wrapped in filo dough, baked until the dough turns crunchy and delicate, and served on creamy pecorino fondue with pretty aromatic petals and herbs.

Nothing pleases me like young Italians succeeding in the world of food.  With this one delightful dish—which achieves that rare and brilliant balance of superb flavor combination, pleasing texture contrasts, esthetic flair and artistry—Chef Matteo, together with wife Francesca, brother Daniele, and the Osteria della Piazzetta dell’Erba team, managed to catch and hold my attention. I will certainly be returning for my third (and possibly fourth!) carciofo croccante.

osteria in the little ‘greens square’

Stewed Artichokes With Garlic & Mint

carciofi in umido

carciofi in umido

Prep several small, slender-ish artichokes (think morelli or violet, not globes): Strip away all the tough outer leaves, cut off the tops, and scrape the outer fibrous layer from the stem. Quarter length-wise and remove the fuzzy choke (which should be minimal) and soak in fresh lemon juice diluted with water while you mince some garlic and deseed and dice a few small tomatoes. Heat some olive oil in a casserole/tegame, add the garlic and cook for a minute or so, then add the drained artichoke pieces. Salt and pepper well, combine, cover and cook until the stems are tender, adding water if the garlic starts to stick or brown and turning the artichokes occasionally. About half-way through the cooking, add the tomato, and when just ready garnish the artichokes with mint, fresh or dried.

Carciofi Ritti: ‘Upright’ Artichokes Stuffed with Pancetta

carciofi at attention

carciofi at attention

If you follow this blog at all regularly, you’ve probably noticed I have a little thing for artichokes. This recipe for carciofi ritti (‘upright’ artichokes, or ‘standing up’ artichokes) comes to us via the exquisite blog by Emiko Davies, who also contributes to Food52 as Regional Italian Food columnist. I will refer you directly to Emiko’s recipe for details and instructions on carciofi ritti, noting only the one deviation of mine: I made too much of the pancetta mixture, so after the artichokes were steamed, I re-stuffed them a bit more before serving. These make a delightful side dish, or, as Emiko points out, a lovely light meal accompanied by some good bread.

Blue-Cheese Stuffed Artichokes

blanched, grilled, stuffed, baked, and (finally!) on the plate

blanched, grilled, stuffed, baked, and (finally!) on the plate

Growing up, I always ate artichokes in the steam & dip the leaves way (either mayo or melted butter), which is a fine way to eat them, to be sure. When I moved to Italy, however, I discovered a world of possibilities with regard to the artichoke. Sliced thin then battered and fried. Raw and tender in a salad with fresh lemon juice and parmigiano cheese. Sautéed in a frittata. Then of course there’s the alla romana and the alla giudia methods—both wonderful. Italians really show their love for carciofi in the infinite and glorious ways they prepare them.

Use any blue cheese you like here—Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Stilton. I used a local marvel called blu Mugello, produced at one of my all-time favorite places, Fattoria il Palagiaccio. The extra dose of a creamy white cheese like ricotta fresca or mascarpone mellows the flavors and renders the melted cheese stuffing fluffier, nicer in consistency (I find melted blues can be, well, weird).

Ingredients

3 medium/large artichokes
80-100 grams (about 3 or 4 ounces) blue cheese of your choice
2 Tablespoons ricotta fresca, or mascarpone, or cream cheese
3-4 Tablespoons fine breadcrumbs
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons butter
salt

Instructions

Take the cheeses out the fridge to warm to room temp.

Carefully clean the artichoke stems with a sharp paring knife by scraping away the outer fibrous layer. Slice the artichokes lengthwise down the middle, then cut out the fuzzy choke, being careful not to cut away any of the heart. Use a teaspoon to help scoop out the choke (you want a small, clean cavity just above the heart.) With scissors, cut off all the spines but do not peel away any of the tough outer leaves. Do this for all three artichokes. They will look something like this:

Blanch the artichokes ‘face down’ in low-boiling water for about 5 minutes, then transfer them to a clean towel to dry completely. In a grill-style grooved pan, melt the butter and add the olive oil, and brush the fats around to cover the grill thoroughly. When the pan is very hot, grill the artichokes face down for 3-5 minutes or until they are golden. They should look something like this:

chokes4

Transfer them to a plate and lightly salt. Gather the fats and juices from the grill pan in a small bowl. (Alternatively, if you have your outdoor grill handy, you can grill the ‘chokes a few minutes face down over medium coals, or until they are slightly blackened.)

While the artichokes are cooling, prepare the stuffing. Blend the cheeses together with a fork. Add 2 tablespoons of the bread crumbs and combine. You will have a not-exactly-pretty paste:

chokes3

Set the oven to grill function at 200° C/400° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. When the artichokes are cool enough to handle, stuff the cavity of each artichoke half with the cheese mixture. You can make a small mound, and also stuff some into the crevices of the now-soft leaves of the artichoke. Brush some of the melted butter/oil on them, then sprinkle with more bread crumbs to create a slightly crunchy top. Grill them on one of the higher shelves in your oven for about 10 minutes or until they are bubbly and golden. Garnish with fresh thyme, or fresh nepeta if you have it on hand.

Grilled Artichokes alla Giorgione

on the plate, hot & buttered

on the plate, hot & buttered

Another solid, simple, brilliant recipe from Giorgio Barchiesi, aka Giorgione. Slice the prickly tops off the artichokes. Cut off all but 2 to 3 inches of the stem. Carefully shave off the fibrous outer layer of the stem with a very sharp paring knife, leaving the tender inner portion of the stem intact. Slice each artichoke length-wise down the middle, all the way through the stem. Do not remove any of the outer leaves, as they will protect the heart of the choke during grilling. Rinse and let dry. When your coals are ready, grill for 15 minutes with the leaf side facing down. When the leaves are black and crunchy, turn the artichokes and grill the inside no more than 5 minutes (do not let this side blacken too much; see my pic). When done, brush the artichokes with a good melted butter & herby salt (and pepper if you like). I melted beurre d’Isigny with pinches of herb-infused aromatic salt from Cervia. Enjoy getting to the hearts of your chokes.

Pasta Recipes: Bucatini in Artichoke, Anchovy & Saffron Sauce

20130209_131719

on the plate with a final dusting of Tuscan saffron threads

Bucatini are thick with a hole piped down the center

Bucatini are thick with a hole piped down the center

Ingredients for 4 people

350 grams (about 3/4 pound) bucatini pasta
2 artichokes
1/2 a white or yellow onion
3 small oil-packed anchovies
100 grams (about 1/3 cup) course bread crumbs
1 small package of saffron (about 2 pinches of threads) plus an extra pinch for garnishing
2-3 sprigs of parsley
olive oil, salt, pepper

saffron, artichoke, anchovy, white onion

saffron, artichoke, anchovy, white onion

Instructions

Set your pasta water to boil.

Prepare the artichokes: Cut off 1 to 1 ½ inches of the thorny top, trim off the stem, and remove the tough outer leaves. Start to slice the meat away from the bottom (the ‘heart’), breaking off more of the tough leaves as you proceed. When you can see the choke (the fuzzy, prickly core), cut it out using a small paring knife and teaspoon. Keep cutting and peeling away leaves until you are left with a pile of artichoke pieces that you can now chop or slice a bit more uniformly. Prepare the second artichoke in the same way. If you wish, save the artichoke scraps to use later in making an artichoke broth.

Dice the onion medium fine. Put the saffron in a bowl and cover it with one ladle-full of hot pasta water. Gently stir. The saffron will color the water.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and add the anchovies. Stir until they begin to dissolve. Add the onion and sauté for about a minute in the oil and anchovy. Add the chopped artichoke and cook with the other ingredients. After two minutes add the saffron water mixture. Cook the mixture another three minutes. Now salt and pepper taste. Turn off the heat and add the bread crumbs. Stir well. You will have a paste-like sauce.

When the pasta is al dente turn off the heat. Do not drain the bucatini with a colander. Use a forked spaghetti ladle to transfer the pasta to the sauce pan. After all the pasta is in the pan with the sauce (a few stragglers will remain at the bottom of the pasta pot), add one full ladle of hot pasta water and stir all together very well. When the bucatini are covered in a smooth but not too thin sauce, then go ahead and drain the pasta remaining at the bottom of the pot with a colander. (You just don’t want to do this prematurely, as the hot pasta water is fundamental to this last step). Serve and garnish with parsley and a dusting of saffron.