BABY ARTICHOKES STUFFED WITH RICOTTA

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BABY TALK

Baby Artichokes Ricotta_9

Buon giorno

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.

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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

Serves: 6

Ingredients:

6 Baby Artichokes

Juice of a fresh lemon

Water to cover artichokes

1 c. Ricotta

1 egg

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

Instructions:

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.

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Cut the artichoke in half lengthwise.

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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.

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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.

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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”.

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Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.

Pop under the broiler for a couple of minutes until the breadcrumbs are golden brown.

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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!

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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography

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“I give a Fig About Figs!”

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Buon Giorno!

Welcome to our first post on MY ITALIAN DISH!

I hope you will enjoy our conversations about Italian cuisine in many forms and come back to visit me often, both here and on my website at www.lindasitaliantable.com It is said Mangia bene, vivi felice! (Eat well, live happy!) I certainly would agree with that, as some of my happiest memories revolve around a great meal shared with the people I love.

Today we’ll explore the virtues of of BAKED FIGS WITH GOAT CHEESE AND PANCETTA – one of my favorites!

When my beautiful and gifted graphics designer, Kadria, was working on my logo, she sent me an email concerning my request to incorporate figs in the design and titled it “I give a fig about your figs!” I thought this would be a most appropriate adaptation for the title of today’s chat.

Dish of Figs
Italians love the fig and truth is, I, too, have a passion for figs – dried and fresh. I especially love fresh figs, and unfortunately, they have a short season, appearing here in Atlanta sometime in July and extending into October. Our very talented photographer friend, Doc, from San Francisco visited last August during one of my fig frenzies. Doc usually watches his portions and rarely has seconds even when trying to humor me. I had baked some exceptionally sweet Mission figs and served them with before-dinner cocktails. His eyes lit up when they came out of the oven, and this careful eater was observed happily enjoying “thirds”. There is something about figs!

I remember later in September of last year, I hunted for some of these delights at Whole Foods and chased down the Produce Manager to complain about my unsuccessful search. He said he thought it might be a little late for them, but he would check into it. After much begging and gnashing of teeth, he assured me that he would find figs for me by the following Tuesday. Sure enough, they arrived – the very last ones I would see until this year. This season, we have been most fortunate to have found a wonderful friend here in Atlanta with a very prolific and beautiful fig tree, and he has generously shared his bounty of figs with us this year. Troppo Bella!


Figs are truly Mediterranean, though not in origin. It is thought that they originated in Western Asia and were taken to the Mediterranean region. They date as far back as ancient Roman times with Cato – for those who remember their Latin instruction – verifying at least six varieties known at the time. The remains of ancient figs dating back as far as 5000 BC have been found among archaeological sites existing in present times. Of course, there was even a mention of figs existing in the Garden of Eden, if one remembers the strategically placed fig leaves in the old oil paintings of Adam and Eve.  Perhaps if Eve had chosen a fig instead of an apple? Today, figs are grown all over Italy even among olive groves and vineyards generally for fresh local consumption and not for export.  At our markets, we usually find the more commonly exported Mission (dark), Calimyrna (greenish), and Turkey (green with red markings) Figs. Fresh figs should be used quickly at their sweetest, keeping in mind that they perish in short order.


Fig Tree, Poolside

I love the sweet season of figs, as it offers a myriad of opportunities to use and introduce the luscious and juicy fresh fig to almost any dish. I’m sure I could throw a fig into anything and be happy with the result.

With that in mind, let’s talk about some interesting ways I have used fresh figs. I find that a fig’s versatility lends itself to side dishes, stuffings – especially with game, appetizers, desserts and yes, even breakfast. They are a marvelous accompaniment to almost any roasted meat on their own or in a mixture of roasted vegetables.

Today, we’ll discuss fresh figs featured as the main event in an appetizer – Baked Figs with Goat Cheese and Pancetta. This is one of the less expected applications of this little wonder as one might not think of using figs with cocktails. On the contrary, their sweetness coupled with a savory blend of cheese and/or meat makes the fresh fig a perfect choice to be repeated throughout the season with cocktails or wine especially al fresco which is my personal favorite form of summertime entertaining. (Not to be confused with the fact that “al fresco” is an Italian slang term for “being in jail”) To add to the joy of serving these appetizer figs and the delight in hearing the oohs and ahs they will create, they are easy to make!

Baked Fresh Figs with Goat Cheese and Pancetta

1/4 lb chopped pancetta
For Fresh Figs – Figure about 3 halves per person (they are usually found in 8 oz. containers)
Drizzle of your favorite honey (My favorite is a local Wildflower variety from Hidden Springs in Williamson Ga.)
3-4 oz goat cheese
1/3 c. Toasted Walnuts – chopped small but coarsely – not fine
1/3 c. Fig Balsamic Vinegar (or any Balsamic would be fine) cooked down a little to thicken

Put a few drops of olive oil in pan and crisp up the pancetta. Remove pancetta pieces from pan and reserve.
Baked Figs
Place sliced halves of figs in oiled baking dish face up. Drizzle them with honey to your taste. Top with bits of goat cheese – I like to use the full 4 oz. Sprinkle with toasted walnuts and follow with crispy pancetta. Drizzle the figs with the thickened Fig Balsamic. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes at 350. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Serves about 6.
I like to serve these with little forks (or salad forks) and small interesting appetizer dishes. Each one pops easily into the mouth so there is no need for knives.

NOW FOR THE TWIST-UP!

There are other ways to serve these same baked figs! Because of the fleeting season, I serve them often and differently.

I especially like to pair them with salads of mixed baby greens with Marcona Almonds and a simple Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar Dressing. The Fig Balsamic is lovely as well. They look so beautiful laying on the side or arranged on top of individual salad plates.

Another way to enjoy this recipe is as a side dish to roasted or grilled meats. They offer just the perfect combination of sweet and savory to go with lamb, pork, duck, sausage, game – you name it!

I have even served these very same little jewels for an amazingly different dessert. Italians are known for serving fruit and nuts for dessert and don’t generally prefer very sweet gooey desserts as we know them in this country. This same preparation of fresh figs is a perfect ending to a rich meal. I like to serve 3 of them on a small plate – with a shaving of dark chocolate and perhaps a biscotti. Of course, a lovely Vin Santo or Moscato alongside and,YES, an Espresso would make my night complete!

PARLA COME MANGI!

Food Photos by Tommy Hanks Photography

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