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Stuffed Artichokes

Stuffed Artichokes

By Barbara Beltrami

If they had a beauty contest for vegetables, I think the artichoke would win. It’s such a pretty veggie, so flower-like and mysterious with its closed leaves and well-hidden heart deep in its center. Actually a member of the thistle family, it is more specifically known as a globe artichoke and unfortunately is as difficult to find as it is to prepare, but well worth the effort ultimately.

A good artichoke feels heavy, its leaves are tightly closed and squeak when you squeeze it. Because it is such a special veggie, it can be steamed and eaten with a simple lemon and butter sauce; on the other hand, because it has such an interesting construction, it lends itself beautifully to a breadcrumb, garlic and olive oil stuffing in between the leaves. Or when in Rome or not in Rome, do as the Romans do and braise it in white wine, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil and season it with a generous sprinkling of fresh parsley.

Prepping and Steaming an Artichoke

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

Juice of one whole lemon

4 globe artichokes

4 slices lemon

4 garlic cloves

1 fresh bay leaf

DIRECTIONS:

Fill a large bowl with cold water and lemon juice; as you prepare the artichokes as follows, place them in the lemon water to keep them from turning brown. With a kitchen scissor, cut off the thorny tips of the outer leaves. Using a serrated knife slice about 1 inch off the tip of the artichoke. Pull off any small leaves at the base near the stem. Cut off an inch or so at the bottom of the stem, and using a vegetable peeler, remove the tough outer skin.

Alternatively all but an inch or so of the stem can be removed and peeled and cooked separately. Gently prying the leaves open, run the artichoke under cold water. Set up a pot large pot with about 3 inches water and a steamer basket. Place the lemon, garlic and bay leaf in the water and bring it to a boil; stand the artichokes in the steamer basket, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, until outer leaves can be easily pulled off. Serve hot, warm, at room temperature with melted butter or hollandaise sauce.

Eating an artichoke

Pull off a leaf; gripping it between your thumb and forefinger, dip it in butter or sauce.  Bite down on leaf and scrape away tender pulp with your front teeth. Discard leaf. Continue with each leaf until you get to the tender inner leaves with the purple tips; eat only the light-colored parts. With a spoon or knife, scrape out and discard the fuzzy inedible choke that covers the heart, which is the best part of all and well worth all that preliminary work. Cut the heart into quarters and dip it into the sauce. Enjoy.

Stuffed Artichokes

Stuffed Artichokes

YIELD: Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

½ cup unflavored breadcrumbs

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 F. In a medium bowl combine breadcrumbs, grated cheese, garlic, parsley, 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, salt and pepper. With the heel of your hand, press down on artichokes to force leaves to separate and open a little. Divide breadcrumb mixture into 4 equal portions and stuff each artichoke between leaves and in central cavity; drizzle with remaining olive oil.

Wrap each artichoke in aluminum foil, place in baking dish and bake for 30 minutes; remove foil and bake another 10 to 15 minutes until browned and tender. Eat as in Eating an Artichoke but be sure to scrape away and discard fuzzy choke. Serve with rustic Italian bread and a tomato and mozzarella salad.

Roasted Root Vegetables served here with pork tenderloin. Photo by Barbara Beltrami

By Barbara Beltrami

This year, come Dec. 24, there is a holiday dinner most likely waiting some place in the wings for most of us. With all the past month’s hustle and bustle and preparation, we will finally don our finest or perhaps our most comfortable and sit down to a delicious dinner with family and friends.

When I think of a holiday dinner, I think of savory aromas wafting through the house and I always think of a roast and my uncle carving it in the kitchen while we kids snatched the small pieces that fell to the side of the carving board. I think of the first course that was always tomato juice, celery and olives. Then, borne on a platter came the aforementioned roast, the gravy straight from the roasting pan, the standard roasted potatoes and boiled vegetables. It was elegant and special, but in retrospect, it wasn’t very good!. Dessert? I honestly don’t remember.

Many years later here at my table there is still the obligatory roast. But we start with something like stuffed artichokes and go on to perhaps a potato rosti (a large plate-size potato pancake) and roasted root vegetables with lots of herbs and onions. And dessert is a delving into the bounty of holiday cookies accompanied by a homemade sorbet.

No matter what or when your celebration, I wish you a very happy holiday.

Stuffed Artichokes

YIELD: Serves 8

INGREDIENTS:

8 large artichokes, washed, trimmed and stems removed, ½ inch of bottoms sliced off so chokes can stand upright

4 cups unseasoned bread crumbs

2 cups grated Parmesan cheese

½ cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

4 garlic cloves, minced

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Juice of half a lemon

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS: Pry the artichoke leaves apart just enough so that you can stuff in between them. Combine the bread crumbs, cheese, parsley, garlic, oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Stuff bread crumb mixture in between leaves. Stand the stuffed artichokes in a large heavy saucepan and carefully pour in enough water to come halfway up the artichokes. Cover and simmer at least an hour until chokes are completely soft. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Potato Rosti

YIELD: Serves 8

INGREDIENTS:

2 pounds potatoes, peeled, washed and grated (use large holes of grater)

1 medium onion, grated

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 to 3 tablespoons butter or extra virgin olive oil

DIRECTIONS: Mix the grated potatoes, onion and salt and pepper. Let stand a few minutes. Do not worry about discoloration. Drain and squeeze excess liquid from mixture. In a large nonstick skillet (8 to 9 inches), heat butter or oil. Add potatoes and with back of large spoon, spread mixture to sides of pan so it completely covers bottom. Tuck in any stray shreds so they don’t burn. Cook over medium heat until bottom is golden brown and potatoes on top are opaque, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat.

Slide the rosti onto a large plate; cover with another upside down large plate and flip so that bottom plate is on top. Gently slide rosti back into skillet with golden side up and cook over low-medium heat until bottom is golden, about 6 to 8 minutes. Test center to be sure it’s cooked through and potatoes are soft. Slide onto serving plate and serve hot or warm.

Roasted Root Vegetables

Roasted Root Vegetables served here with pork tenderloin. Photo by Barbara Beltrami

YIELD: Serves 6 to 8

INGREDIENTS:

½ pound beets

½ pound rutabaga

½ pound butternut squash

½ pound carrots

½ pound parsnips

½ pound turnips

2 medium red onions

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

Course salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 400 F. Peel and remove stems or seeds, wash and cut vegetables into 2-inch chunks. In a glass or ceramic baking dish, toss together the vegetables, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, herbs, salt and pepper until everything is evenly coated. Bake, turning vegetables occasionally with spatula, until they are tender inside and slightly crisp on the outside, for 45 minutes to one hour. Adjust seasoning, if necessary. Note: Vegetable amounts can be varied and need not be exact. For instance, if you like beets but don’t like rutabagas, adjust amounts accordingly.

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