|Ready stuffed and packed tightly into the pan for cooking|
1) The start of the really cold part of winter
2) Those brilliantly sunny but crisp cold days of January (hiking!)
3) The urge to squirrel away these delicacies to bring them out at the height of summer.
4) The excitement I feel when the farmers leave a field of them to flower so that they can use the seeds for next year. Anyone lucky enough to have seen these fields, they are simply spectacular. The flower grows to be the side of your head, and when they are in bloom, you really see the fact that they are, in fact, a thistle!
What we call the "choke" in an artichoke is in fact the hairy mass of immature petals that would otherwise bloom to become that purple mass in a mature flower. In culinary terms, the globe artichoke is the bud, which is edible just as it's been formed, and before it starts opening up to bloom.
Here in Malta, they are a seasonal delicacy, even though you can prepare them (and I will let you know how in a later post!) to freeze and store for later on in the year. Currently, the price is still "high" as it's right at the start of the season, but in a few weeks, we'll be buying a box load for summer use :)
The preparation of artichokes starts from the selection;
They need to be as tightly closed as possible (especially the inner leaves).
Firm to the touch and feel heavy.
They need to be as round as possible, not tapering to a point at the top.
Ideally, choose them from a Green grocer who keeps them on the full stalk, and only ask him to trim it down to 10cm if you are using them on the day.
If you plan to use them the day after, keep them on the stalk as long as possible, and you can even do as I do and chuck em in a vase as a decoration until you need to use them (keep them only a couple of days though)
This recipe is based on the typical Maltese way of stuffing artichokes. There are many variations, and this is most certainly not completely traditional. I made do with the breadcrumbs, mostly because i didn't have any bread in the house, however they do keep the stuffing lovely and absorb much of the delicious, delicious liquid. if you choose to add them, just crumble up some day old Maltese bread (or a good firm sour dough if unavailable), and soak with a splash of vinegar (the vinegar i added to the recipe anyway and mixed with the other ingredients. Then add the rest of the stuffing ingredients to that.
The method below is actually completely vegan (as long as you don't serve it with tuna hahah) Bonus!
Many other Maltese recipes call for Tuna. I like to serve my tuna on the side. But really, the tuna is lovely when added to the filling too. next time i'm making these, i'll chop a few anchovies into the stuffing. I think it will be delicious!
|Pretty closed up, but solid and flat/round on top|
The globe artichoke season also coincides with the start of the garlic season, and i believe this is far from coincidence. By "garlic" i mean the garlic as a whole plant, which looks similar to spring onions, except the base is not white, but either be completely purple or have a purple hue. (please see pic of what they look like in winter here, and then towards the end of winter/springtime they would like this . These will keep on growing if they were left in the ground, to eventually become the separate cloves we all know as "garlic", but at this stage, they are milder, and you can use them just like spring onions, with a large part of the stem being used as well. This is the traditional garlic to use with stuffed artichokes in Malta, but if you can't find it, please use normal garlic (as many Maltese do today). I find it to be a special bonus, simply slicing the garlic stems into lovely green white and purple discs, rather than peeling, crushing, chopping and generally hassling with regular garlic!
4 Globe artichokes, with at least 10cm of stem still left on them.
About 6-10 fresh garlic plants, depending on the size, trimmed from the dry long leaves, and the lower part of the stem and immature bulb sliced finely. If not available, use a shitload of garlic cloves chopped roughly.
A big bunch of flat leaf parsley (tursin in Maltese), chopped roughly. a MASSIVE bunch. you'll need to get over a cup of chopped stuff out of this bunch. well over a cup.
A couple of thick slices of Maltese bread, or sourdough if not available.
Some vinegar (i used organic apple cider, but red/white wine is probably more traditional)
Black olives (kalamata), chopped roughly (about 6-8?) - this time I had no black olives and it, so i used green spanish ones.
Olive oil, and some extra virgin to serve.
To serve - Yellowfin tuna in olive oil, and some fresh crusty Maltese bread/Ftira, or a good country style sour dough if unavailable.
Wash the artichokes well, and chop off the 10cm or so of stem so that the artichoke can stand unsupported.
Chop parsley, garlic roughly and place in a small bowl, and sprinkle a tiny dash of vinegar into it, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.
Grab the bottom of the artichoke in your palms and SMASH the artichoke hard on your kitchen counter. This will open up the leaves, and make it easier to stuff. This is also my favourite bit! :D
Peel the stems until only the tender part of the stem remains, and then chop roughly and add to the garlic/parsley mixture.
With your fingers, start stuffing the filling in between the leaves. Use all the stuffing, and divide it equally between the artichokes. If there's extra keep stuffing! Stuff, stuff, stuff! :D Force it in, it'll shrink considerably when cooked so don't worry.
|Tightly packed (i had to force them in to this little pan, but that's what you want. could have easily placed the potatoes in the little spaces, but they were so tight that i couldn't really fit medium sized potatoes in!|
Once they've been stuffed, place them in as small a pan as you can fit them in to. They need to be nice and tight to avoid them floating when you add the water they will be simmered into. If you don't have a pot small enough, wash some potatoes and place them into the spaces, to make sure everything fits tightly in the pan. These potatoes are DIVINE when cooked in the juices and served with the artichokes, so don't worry! :D
Place just enough water for them to simmer in, maybe 1/3 of the way up the artichokes? Add a liberal splash of olive oil, and a small sprinkling of sea salt, and place on a medium heat until the water is boiling. Turn right down to a bare simmer, cover, and leave for about 1-1.5 hours, until you can pull a leaf out of the globe without using any force.
Allow to cool slightly, and serve with some tuna, some good quality extra virgin olive oil, and plenty of Maltese bread.
If you've never eaten a fresh artichoke before, here's how:
Take the outer leaves off one by one and hold like a potato crisp. Take a look at it - you should be able to see the edible part pretty clearly. It's lighter in colour and down at the base of the leaf, where it was attached to the heart. Drag it along your teeth, and you will end up with the non edible part still in your hand, and a tiny mouthful of delicious, artichokey goodness in your mouth. YUM!
After most of the leaves are done, you'll end up with the centre (the heart). you can simply pop the whole thing into your mouth, or do as I do, and spread it on bread and eat it with some tuna and oil sprinkled on top,. mmmmm YUM!
NOTE!!!! Please do not use any tuna that is simply marked as "tuna" on the can. You are most likely to be eating a Critically Endangered species called Bluefin tuna if so. IF you have to eat tuna (and i do on rare occasions these days), please ensure that it's Yellowfin. Please think about this, you wouldn't eat a tiger, why would you eat one of the apex predators and most important fish in the food chains in the Mediterranean? thanks! :)