Creole Stuffed Artichokes

I frequently wonder about my ancestors, the native Americans, and other “first peoples” and picture them deciding to try eating certain things.  Artichokes are high on that list.  They just don’t cry out “EAT ME” and even if you’re a culinary extrovert and willing to give anything a go, they have pretty vicious thorns on the tips of the leaves.  Who came up with cooking these prehistoric looking flower buds just so and then pulling a leaf, scraping your teeth along the base and pulling the softened pith off?  Much less pulling the hairy choke out of the base and eating the heart…you gotta be really hungry.

Creole Stuffed Artichokes

4 large artichokes
5 lemons
6 cups Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2/3 cup chopped scallions
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
8 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon salt
2/3 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
2/3 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1-3/4 cups olive oil

All doubts about edibility aside, these things are so enticing in a produce aisle or farmer’s market.  And leave it to the Italians to tame them into delicious submission with Parmesan and extra-virgin olive oil, plus a BUNCH of garlic.

To prep the artichokes, using kitchen shears or a really sharp paring knife, trim the pointed ends off each outer leaf and rub a lemon on the cut ends to prevent browning.  When you come to the thinner purplish inner leaves you can stop —  they are low on the edibility scale anyway.  Slice off the stem ends of each artichoke so they stand up straight in the pan, but leaving the base as intact as possible.

Here’s a tip: mince your garlic together with the salt, pepper and cayenne.  In addition to helping distribute the seasonings evenly, the abrasiveness of the salt will release more of the garlic flavor … some sort of chemical reaction occurs when the cell walls are broken by cutting, mashing, grating, etc. so the more finely you pulverize it, the more pungent it will be and mincing with abrasive kosher or sea salt will get this impact while still leaving you with the freshness of intact bits.  As always, our favorite Ulu and chopping bowl make this almost therapeutic, and is the best way to chop the scallions and parsley finely as well.

Combine the breadcrumbs, Parmesan, garlic, parsley, scallions, salt and peppers in a large bowl, adding 1-1/2 cups of the olive oil, and mix well until the filling has the texture of stuffing.

Spread the leaves of each artichoke open, without breaking them, and stuff as much filling as possible down in between each leaf.  This is a somewhat time-consuming, messy, coaxing process … you really want to get as much down in there, and in between every leaf, as you can.  But here’s a bonus tip: I still had a bunch of leftover stuffing and used it to bread chicken cutlets for frying later in the week and the skipper said BEST he’d EVER HAD and ate them without complaint all week.  So don’t despair of leftover stuffing, which also freezes well for later use in artichokes or just about anything you would bread.

Stand the artichokes in a stovetop-safe pan and add water to about 1.5 inches.  Pour the rest of the olive oil over the artichokes slowly, letting it seep in.  Juice the lemons over the artichokes, adding a bit of juice to the water to help keep them a fresh green color while steaming, and place a slice or two of lemon atop each artichoke.  Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and steam them, covered (use foil if your pan lacks a lid), for about 45 minutes to an hour, checking occasionally to add more water if necessary.  They are done when a leaf pulls away fairly easily — in which case the pith (tender, edible flesh at the base of the leaf) should be soft.

Serve these with an empty bowl on the side to dispose of leaves as you go — they are a little like a crab or crawfish boil … slow, messy, low net consumption and good for idle chit chat.  So on second thought, the native Americans probably wouldn’t bother fitting these into their subsistence living, and not sure a pirate would incorporate them into a “rations” menu, but they’re a delicious treat to welcome springtime!

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