Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Roman Artichokes with Mint & Garlic

The artichoke is a most wonderful thing. Enormous edible flower buds. Just glorious! Growing up we had them as a special dinner in the spring, just steamed and served with hollandaise sauce. I always loved them. When I moved to San Fran I learned you could buy them as baby and young artichokes too.
My in-laws make these bold artichokes with mint, garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil stuffed inside all the leaves. I liked them but couldn't get much of a recipe out of my mother in law, she always shrugged it off. And everybody said Grammy made them the best anyway. Sadly, I never had the chance to meet the matriarch of the family who was a legendary cook. One day this spring, doing research for some writing, I was deep in Italian cookbooks. A recipe jumped out at me, Roman Artichokes from In Nonna's Kitchen. There was the mint and garlic and I thought "I've FOUND IT!"

Soaking trimmed artichokes in lemon water.

I made them them for my husband, mostly following the recipe to test it out. His grandmother's artichokes are among his TOP-5 favorite foods. (Although the TOP-5 has more like 20 favorite foods.) So the pressure was on. Incidentally, I also used my pressure cooker, because somebody had a memory of Grammy using a pressure cooker, but nobody had recently. I thought this might be a clue.

The first batch were good. Really good. The only suggestion was "they should have more pepper."

So I forged on and made them for the family. I put in much more pepper, and sadly I don't have exact measurements because it is that sort of a thing so I have modified the recipe from In Nonna's Kitchen with my changes to the best of my ability.

I felt the ultimate satisfaction when my artichokes were approved as as good as Grammy's. And they wondered if I wasn't really Italian and hiding it. The whole table stripped the leaves in almost-silence, which is saying something!

Crispy Roman Artichokes

Roman Artichokes with Mint & Garlic

4 large artichokes
2 lemons
2 teaspoons dry mint
1 teaspoon dry marjoram
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon black pepper (the powder)
1-2 teaspoon salt
1 cup olive oil
1 cup water
1/3 cup dry white wine

Fill a bowl with cool water, cut one lemon in half, squeeze it into the water and drop in the halves.
Trim the artichokes; remove the toughest outside petals, use scissors to cut the sharp points off the leaves, and a knife to chop off the top inch off of the artichoke. The stem is very tasty, cut the stem off at the base, and peel off the tough outside and the old cut end. Submerge the trimmed artichoke in the lemon water. This stops them from turning gray when cut, and it may tenderize them or impart flavor. The Nonna said to soak them for 2 hours, so I did, I have no complaints and will continue to do it this way!

Put the fresh garlic through a press, or mince small. Mix with the powdered garlic, dry mint, majoram, black pepper and salt. Pour some olive oil into the mix, making a thin paste. Remove an artichoke from the water, shaking it out, use your fingers to open up the petals a little bit. Scoop up some of the herb oil paste in your right hand and cup it on top of the artichoke, smoothing it downward so it goes in between the petals. Divide the herb paste among the artichokes. 

Place the herbed artichokes upright into a pressure cooker (or a regular soup pot.) It is ok to stack them on one another, use the peeled stems to hold them upright if necessary. Add the water, wine, and drizzle some more olive oil into their centers. Bring the pressure cooker up to pressure and cook for 10 minutes. (If using a soup pot, simmer covered for 35-40 minutes.) To test for doneness pull one of the outisde petals, if if falls off, it is done, if it hangs on it needs more cooking. Which can come on the stove or later in the oven. Remove to an ovenproof baking dish. The sauce in the bottom of the pan is precious and should be poured over the artichokes. (You can do up to this point ahead, and cover them in the fridge for a day or so until ready to crisp them.)

Preheat the oven to 400°, put the artichokes uncovered into the oven. Cook for about 30 to 40 minutes until the outsides are golden and terribly crispy, the oil will be sizzling. If you are in a rush, it is possible to broil them, and I did this once. It is nearly as good. It goes very fast, make sure to get the oil to sizzle madly, as this turns the flavors from a steamed thing into something terribly better. Cooked for the 40 minutes in the oven they nearly melt away in your mouth. 

Drizzle any sauce over the artichokes as you serve them. I find shallow bowls are best so you have somewhere to put the petals as you eat it. And you know not to eat the choke; scoop that out with a spoon. Happy springtime!

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