The roadside stand that we stopped at on our way back home this weekend had nice big artichokes that I was able to nab for this lovely dish. The very first time I had an artichoke was in my foreign language class back in high school. At the time, I thought that I would probably end up in veterinary school, so I was taking Latin. One of our projects was to bring in food from ancient Rome. Being an over achiever, I brought in a yeast risen semolina bread from a recipe that was supposedly from the ancient Roman empire. Now, I would be pretty suspicious of any recipe touting itself as “ancient” and calling for rapid rise yeast granules, pretty sure that is not how ancient Romans went about making bread, but at the time, no eyebrows were raised.
My friend brought in steamed artichokes with drawn butter and lemon juice. Dipping the leaves into the unctuous butter and acidic lemon, then drawing them across my teeth, those sparks ignited in my food memory bank, what a yummy combination. Bringing home artichokes this weekend, I wanted to go few steps further and stuff the leaves with a highly spiced bread mixture.
Luckily, I keep homemade croutons stocked in my kitchen at all times. The fatty element I chose was olive oil and the acidic element was red wine vinegar. The croutons absorb the vinegar and olive oil to make a light flavorful stuffing. These can be prepared a day ahead and gives the seasonings enough time to blend and the cook enough time to be relaxed on the day that they are served.
Italian Stuffed Artichokes
4 medium to large artichokes
1 cup water plus additional for steaming
4 cups croutons, crushed into fine crumbs
5 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, minced
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Cut off the stem flush with the base and cut of the top one third (the prickly leaf ends) of each artichoke. Pour water to a depth of about 3 inches into a large pot or deep pan, place a steaming rack in the bottom of the pot or pan and bring the water to a boil over high heat. PLace the artichokes, stem end up, on the rack. reduce the heat to medium, cover and steam until the base of the artichoke offers little resistance when pierced with the tines of a fork, about 30 minutes. The timing will depend on the size and maturity of the artichokes.
Remove the artichokes from the steamer and set aside until cool enough to handle. Then, using a spoon, scoop out the central leaves from ech artichokeand remove the thistles and furry bits, to make a cavity about 1 1/2 inches wide. Set the artichokes aside.
In a bowl, combine the 1 cup water and the croutons. Stir to moisten the crumbs evenly. Let stand just long enough to soften the bread, anywhere from 15 seconds to several minutes, depending on how dry the bread is and how coarse the crumbs are. Squeeeze the crumbs dry and transfer to a clean bowl.
Add the vinegar and parsley. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional salt if needed. The mixture will appear fluffy but dense enough to hold it shape if squeezed into a ball.
Spoon stuffing into the hollowed out cavity of an artichoke. Pry back a layer of leaves and tuck stuffing at the base of the leaves. Repeat. The artichoke will expand like a flower.
Squeeze lemon juice over each artichoke and drizzle with olive oil. Eat immediately or cover the artichokes with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 8 hours, before serving. If you refrigerate, let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before serving.