Easter is less than a month away and, since it is one of my favorite holidays, the next few posts will be devoted to some family food traditions associated with Easter. Every Italian family has its own stuffed artichoke recipe, but I will share yet another because these always appear on our Easter table and, since this blog serves as a heritage recipe box for my children, they have to be included. I used to make a standard breadcrumb stuffing with just garlic, breadcrumbs, and cheese, but one year my Aunt Jo mentioned that my grandfather added thin slivers of boiled ham to his breadcrumb stuffing. So I tried it and it was delicious. I think it works well because artichokes need a bit of salt, and when you are stuffing the tightly-packed leaves it is hard to add enough. Using slightly salty ham crumbs bring balance and flavor to the artichokes. (I have tried prosciutto, which it is also good, but I prefer ham.) The peeled artichoke stems are edible and delicious. Some people chop them into the breadcrumb mixture; I add them to the steaming water until fork tender, then remove and serve beside the stuffed artichokes.
A couple of years ago I was in our local restaurant supply store after Thanksgiving and came across an artichoke platter with a matching bowl on clearance. Since artichokes are my favorite vegetable I could not resist buying it, and now the platter graces our table every year. The matching bowl in the photo contains herbed olive oil as an optional drizzle over the stuffed artichokes.
Italian Stuffed Artichokes
6-8 c. cold water
1 lemon (for 1 tsp. zest and juice)
4 artichokes (save the stem and add to the cooking water to boil until tender), rinsed
1 c. Progresso Italian-style breadcrumbs
4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 very thin slices deli-style boiled ham, chopped (about 1/3 c.) or 1 slice prosciutto
1/4 c. grated Imported Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. dried Greek oregano
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. finely chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
Place 6-8 cups cold water in a large bowl. Zest lemon, saving the zest for the breadcrumbs then quarter and squeeze lemon juice into the water and add lemon quarters to it. Rinse artichokes, then cut off stems, peel them, and add stems to lemon water. Cut off the top half inch or so of each artichoke. Use scissors to cut off the prickly tips of the leaves (1/4 inch). Remove fuzzy choke with a spoon. Place trimmed artichokes in the acidulated water and let sit while you make the breadcrumb mixture. In a separate bowl combine breadcrumbs, lemon zest, garlic, ham, cheese, oregano, 1/8 tsp. salt, pepper, and parsley. Stir to mix evenly. Remove an artichoke from the water, drain a bit, then spread open the artichoke leaves slightly and sprinkle with some salt. Begin filling the leaves with breadcrumb stuffing using a spoon. Use about 1/3 cup of breadcrumbs per artichoke. Drizzle artichoke with olive oil to moisten stuffing. Repeat with remaining artichokes. Fill a deep frying pan with one inch of water. Add artichokes. Cover and steam for 45 minutes to one hour (add more water if necessary), until tender when pierced with a fork. Serves 4 if leaving whole, or 8 if artichokes are halved.