Oh NO! Not Artichokes! They’re WAY too much work and WAY too difficult. WRONG! I am about to change your life- Well – maybe just the way you feel about artichokes. Baby Artichokes Stuffed with Ricotta is just the way to do it. The operative word here is “baby”. They are delicious and tender and so easy to prepare.
Fact: A Baby Artichoke is not a type of artichoke. It is actually a baby, not mature, and picked from the lower portion of the plant.
Fact: Baby artichokes have no choke. You know – that nasty little prickly furry thing on the inside of an artichoke that makes everyone want to run and hide?
Fact: While they are available in some areas year round, they are usually found to be more abundant in the month of May.
Fact: You can freeze them cooked but not raw.
Fact: You can grill them, saute them, steam them, roast them, or deep fry them.
MYTH: Artichokes take a long time and much skill to prepare.
Best Fact: I can and you WILL prepare a baby artichoke for cooking in less than 1 minute per “baby”.
Considering all the above facts, are you still thinking of running like a scared bunny rabbit? I think not!
Let me tell you about my recent experience that I hope will inspire you. I was on the prowl for Baby Artichokes as soon as the first micro-speck of pollen hit the air this year. I found some at Whole Foods in late March, but then came up dry for a while. I decided to launch a more aggressive search.
The Lesson: There is a lesson developing here. I strongly urge you to become “friendly” ( NO – not that kind of friendly!) with your produce manager. Let him know you. Let him recognize you in the store. Let him know you like to cook. Really, folks, these fellows (usually fellows) want to serve their customers. They want to bring in different varieties of fruits and vegetables and grow their customer base. Seriously, no one talks to them unless they are complaining about the spots on the bananas. Yes, there have been times that the “Yoda” of produce at Whole Foods has wanted to hide under the Swiss Chard when he saw me coming, but for the most part, it has been a relationship of mutual accommodation.
Getting back to the aggressive search – After scouring the Farmers’ Markets and heard the 20th local farmer tell me how Georgia soil is not forgiving when it comes to artichokes and wouldn’t I rather talk about turnips and lettuce – I went back to Whole Foods AGAIN and stalked the produce manager. We had a long discussion about how he hasn’t been able to get baby artichokes which begged my question: Is it that you can’t get them, or that you don’t think people will buy them? He confessed that the latter had factored in.
What we do for love: I decided to go for it. It worked last year with the figs. Why not try it with the baby artichokes? I BEGGED! Then I PLEADED! I wove a story about how I needed them, longed for them, craved them, not to mention several hundred of my “closest friends” were sitting on the edge of their seats just waiting for a recipe using them. It was when his eyes began to roll backward in his head that I stared him down and said, “Look, Bucko, it’s almost May – the month for artichokes. Surely you can get your hands on a few!” At this point, I’m sure he considered calling security, but instead, he agreed to try and took my name, rank, and serial number. I thought – “that’s the last I’ll hear from this guy” on this subject. However, a week later, he called and said he couldn’t get them for Easter, but he would keep trying. The following week he called again with the best words you’ll ever hear from a produce manager: “I’ve got ‘em”.
Happy endings: I rushed to Whole Foods and purchased three dozen. They come in boxes of 12. It may sound like a lot, but they are very small , keep in the refrigerator well, and “slim down” considerably after you prep them. They were so worth the trouble to get – and now my produce manager is much less intimidated by the woman in the baseball cap who calls him “Bucko”. These days, he smiles when he sees me. (Just wait til fig season. We’ll see if he is still smiling!)
THE RECIPE: Baby Artichokes Stuffed With Ricotta will win your heart. It is a recipe based on a Sardinian favorite using salami. My version with prosciutto is a little more delicate, I think. Also, my addition of capers, gives the stuffing a little zip. I absolutely love serving these tender Baby Artichokes as an appetizer – perhaps two halves to a plate – which will only make “them” want more. They are easy and quick to prepare and make such an unusual and delicious presentation. They also make a good side dish. I can almost imagine the shepherds, who are famous for sleeping in the crevices of the rocks which line the mountains of Sardinia, dreaming of these splendid little gems during the months away from their families and homes. Unlike the shepherds, we don’t have to wait so long!
BABY ARTICHOKES STUFFED WITH RICOTTA
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
6 Baby Artichokes
Juice of a fresh lemon
Water to cover artichokes
1 c. Ricotta
3 Tbsp. Grated Parmigiano- Reggiano Cheese
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
4 oz. (1/4 lb) chopped Prosciutto
2 Tbsp. capers, rinsed and drained
1/2 c. Fresh breadcrumbs
Handful of Chopped Fresh Parsley
Juice of 1/2 Lemon
Extra Virgin Olive Oil for drizzling
In a large bowl put just enough water to cover the artichokes and the juice of a fresh lemon.
Remember I said it takes less than a minute to prepare each baby artichoke!
Rinse and brush the artichokes. Take off all outside darker tougher leaves until you are down to the pale almost lime green inside leaves.
Cut off the tip of the artichoke.
Take off a little of the end of the stem.
Scrape the stem with a potato peeler.
Cut the artichoke in half lengthwise.
Drop it in bowl of lemon and water immediately which prevents the artichoke from turning brown.
Proceed with the rest of the artichokes.
When finished with the prep of the artichokes drop them in boiling salted water and boil for about 10 minutes.
While they cook, prepare your stuffing.
Mash the ricotta in a bowl with a fork.
Add the egg, cheese, chopped Prosciutto, capers, ground pepper. Mix together and taste for seasoning. You may or may not need any additional salt depending on how much salt the Prosciutto and capers bring to the stuffing. Just taste and season accordingly as you like.
When Baby Artichokes are ready, place them in an oiled baking dish, cut side up.
Top each one with a heaping spoon of ricotta stuffing. Add the breadcrumbs over the stuffing. Then top with Fresh Chopped Parsley. Squeeze the fresh lemon juice over all, and drizzle with a little Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Olio Carli is my favorite when it comes to the “Virgins”.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.
Pop under the broiler for a couple of minutes until the breadcrumbs are golden brown.
To Serve: As an appetizer, serve 2 halves per person. Drizzle again with Extra Virgin Olive Oil just before serving. They are great served hot or cold.
Vino: I like a Pinot Grigio with Baby Artichokes Stuffed With Ricotta. A Zenato Pinot Grigio is nice and also affordable.
PARLA COME MANGI!
Also: See the RECIPE OF THE MONTH on
Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography