I don’t cook artichokes very often.
It is quite foolish of me because I adore them and Roman markets have the most extraordinarily abundant harvest of them at this time of year. It’s me, I just don’t cook them very often.
It’s not that I’m not afraid of them anymore. I used to be, the preparation all seemed far to complicated and messy for the likes of me and my first experience of trimming 6 fine specimens was frankly distressing as I mauled and cut them out of all recognition. My fear abated and modest artichoke skills only emerged when I discovered Marcella Hazan and her book Italian food and her superlative description of how to handle this beautiful vegetable.
So before we talk about the gratin, first, Preparing artichokes.
At this point – if your artichoke skills are honed – you may choose to skip straight to the recipe or you may decide to skip me altogether and pull your copy of Italian food off the shelf and learn with Marcella her very self or even click on The Italian dish for a lovely demonstration of how to tame your globes…….still with me…..ok
Leaving the stem intact for now. First you need to discard all the dark, tough outer leaves which are inedible. Begin by bending back each leaf, pulling it down towards the base and snapping it off just before the paler end of the leaf which is tender and delicious.
As you get deeper into the artichoke you will see the leaves are paler, pinky white and the point at which you snap the leaf gets higher and higher from the base. Keep pulling off leaves until you have exposed a central core of leaves that are only green at the very tip.
Slice an inch off the top of the central core and rub the cut edge of the artichoke with half a lemon to stop it discolouring.
Now, look into the center of the core, you will notice very small leaves with prickly tips, the fuzzy ‘choke,’ Using a knife with a round tip gently scrape out these little leaves but be careful not to damage the tender base.
Now with a sharp knife and your half lemon ready return to the outer leaves. Carefully shave away all traces of green and tough looking leaves and then carefully pare away the tough green fibrous part of the stem to expose the very pale tender part of the stalk which is one of the tastiest parts. While you work keep rubbing the lemon half on the exposed tender flesh to prevent it from discolouring.
Ok, all the hard word done, the artichokes are quartered, briefly boiled and then arranged pleasingly in a shallow dish, dotted with butter and covered with plenty of freshly grated parmesan and baked for about 15minutes.
I can vouch for the delicious simplicity of this dish, I have just eaten most of the contents of the above dish standing up leaning against the work-surface with the sun on my face, a most modest portion remains for vincenzo when he gets home.
As for serving suggestions, well standing up at the work-surface with the sun on your face is one, as an antipasti with some nice bread to mop up the buttery juices is another or maybe it would go well with some tender lamb chops – let me know if you have any ideas.
Gratin of Artichokes
- 6 large globes artichokes
- half a lemon and 1tbsp of lemon juice for adding to the boiling water
- 50g butter and extra for buttering the dish
- 80g freshly grated parmesan
- freshly ground black pepper
Prepare your artichokes as described above.
Cut each artichoke into quarters rubbing each quarter with half a lemon to stop them discolouring.
Bring a large pan of salted water and 1tsp lemon juice to a fast boil.
Drop the artichoke quarters into the boiling water. once the water comes back to a boil allow the artichokes to cook for 5 Min’s.
Drain the artichokes and once they have cooled enough to handle cut each quarter into 3.
Butter a medium sized shallow dish. Arrange a layer of artichoke slices in the bottom of the dish, dot with butter and sprinkle over a handful of parmesan. Now, repeat the procedure, building up layer of artichoke. Arrange a final layer of artichokes and for the last time dot your butter and cover with very generous quantity of parmesan.
Bake at 190°c/375°F for 15 minutes until the parmesan forms a light crust.
Allow to rest for a few minutes before serving