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Artichokes—those utterly distinctive, leafy globes of goodness we all adore—are abundant right now in the region’s farmers markets and grocery stores. Did you know that virtually 100 percent of all artichokes grown commercially in the United States are grown in California? This factoid—which provides us with yet another reason to be proud of our state’s bountiful agriculture—comes from the California Artichoke Advisory Board, which also points out that, while the thistly vegetable’s production occurs year-round, nearly one-third of the crop is harvested between March and May.
That means it’s the perfect time to relish freshly harvested artichokes. If the vegetable’s complicated exterior confounds you, the California Artichoke Advisory Board kindly provides a video on basic preparation of the artichoke and even offers instructions on how to eat it.
One of my favorite ways to celebrate this wonderful vegetable is by baking it “Roman-Style,” using an excellent recipe from Biba Caggiano’s cookbook Trattoria Cooking. Caggiano, Sacramento’s lauded chef/owner of Biba Restaurant, certainly knows her way around an artichoke (if you ever encounter an artichoke risotto at the restaurant, order it)—and this simple recipe, wherein the artichoke is stuffed with fresh mint, garlic, bread crumbs and olive oil—is a knockout. (Hint: serve it at your next dinner party—your guests are sure to be impressed).
Carciofi alla Romana
Baked Artichokes Roman Style
Adapted from Trattoria Cooking, by Biba Caggiano
4 small artichokes
3 fresh bread slices, crusts removed and finely chopped
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
10 fresh mint leaves (or one teaspoon dried and crumbled mint)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup plus 1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375°F. Remove and discard the tougher outer leaves of the artichokes. Cut the remaining leaves halfway, with scissors, until you reach the central cone of leaves. At this point you will see that three-quarters of the leaves are white and the tip of the cone is pale green. Slice off the green top.
Gently open the artichokes with your hands and remove the fuzzy chokes with a spoon or melon scooper. Rub the lemon over the cut edges of the artichokes to prevent discoloration.
With a small knife, trim off the outer green part of the artichokes’ green bottoms. Trim the stalks, leaving about 2 inches intact. Trim away the greener outer part of the stalks, leaving the white part of the stalks intact. Rub the cut edges of the artichokes with more lemon.
In a small bowl combine the bread, parsley, mint, garlic and 1/4 cup olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Push the stuffing between the artichoke leaves and into each artichoke cavity.
Place the artichokes, with their stalks pointing upward, in a small casserole dish. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil and just enough water to come halfway up the artichokes (if you have any stuffing left, add it to the casserole dish).
Brush a piece of parchment paper with olive oil and place over the artichokes. Cover the dish with a tight lid and bake at 375°F until tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
Arrange the artichokes with their stems upward on a serving dish. If there is still quite a bit of watery juice in the casserole dish, cook it down over high heat until you have 4 to 5 tablespoons left. Pour the sauce over the artichokes, let cool and serve.
Makes 4 servings