TASTE / How do I prepare artichokes?

We have been really missing just hanging out in Nonna's kitchen in this past year. It’s true that as much as I love a cooking book there’s nothing quite like watching a master in action for those recipes, tips and techniques that really stick with you!





Fortunately, it is now artichoke season here so Stefano has been reliving one of the old family favourites at home with us recently.






Our son Raffaele first tried Carciofi alla Nonna at six months and has been a huge fan of this glorious bud ever since. I was considerably older before I tried, let alone prepared a fresh artichoke, I just thought they seemed so complicated! So, I was delighted to discover that you can often buy them at markets in Italy partially prepped and waiting in big buckets of water for you to take home and cook.





Nonna prepares her own and what is beautiful about her method and recipe is that it is classic ‘cucina povera', simple and rustic in presentation with very little waste, and with the veg shining through for itself.





It does leave the scales mainly in tact but she serves the artichoke with a dipping oil blend and we eat it as finger food. Leaf by leaf we dip, the soft parts are then scraped off by tooth with only the very hardest parts then discarded and usually fed to the chickens.


The heart and stem will be softer of course and can be a savoured until the end for a less labour intensive mouthful. Some people might prefer to discard most of the leaves first but we love the simplicity of this and it is certainly adequate for steaming and a more simple preparation.





Preparation


1. Cut off and discard off the very top with a large knife.

2. Cut off the stem, chopping in parts if necessary and lightly peel.

3. Remove the very outer toughest scales and leave the rest intact. I find kitchen scissors work well for this.

4. Cut in half.

5. With a spoon, scoop away the fluffy 'choke'.




If preparing a while before cooking, keep the artichokes in a bowl of water with a couple of slices of lemon to preserve the colour. Alternatively, whilst cleaning and cutting the artichoke you can be simmering the cooking stock, prepared as follows:


Cooking


1. In a suitably sized pan, put half a glass of water and one soup spoon of tomato concentrate, one bay leaf, 1-2 finely chopped cloves of garlic and half to one pinch of salt.

2. Warm on a low or medium/low heat, keeping the lid always on.





3. Place the artichokes into the pan (facing down).

4. Reduce the heat to slow cook for 15/20 min. Ideally, never open the lid (unless to add a little water if the stock is starting to dry) as you need that steam to cook them evenly and fully absorb the flavour from the juice you have made. To keep the artichokes from sticking give the pan a shake and swill every now and again.


This is also a delicious way to cook French beans.



5. Serve with a balsamic and olive oil dip or bagna cauda.




Nonna's recipe has certainly made artichokes feature more frequently on the menu at home, rather than me viewing them as something (as the website below says) that is made as if it doesn't want to be eaten! If you want to know how to remove more of the artichoke or prepare it differently, this is a good place to learn more.





Thanks Nonna Anna, we hope to be sharing some carciofi with you again very soon.



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