Vegetables are such an important part of the Italian diet that I devote two episodes each season to what is growing in the vegetable garden. The year that we filmed in Sicily the crew and I visited local markets as well as home gardens. And it was clear that vegetables make up a big part of the Sicilian diet.
Eggplant and artichokes are particular favorites. I have a particular fondness for artichoke hearts baked with layers of potatoes; the dish is similar to scalloped potatoes. Instead of struggling to remove the chokes from the artichokes before cooking them, cook them intact; the choke will then effortlessly come out with a spoon.
4 artichokes, medium-sized (2 pounds)
4 cups chicken broth or water
1 bay leaf
2 baking potatoes (1 1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1/8-inch slices
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
2 1/2 cups whole milk, light cream, or heavy cream
6 tablespoons grated Pecorino cheese
Cut the stem ends of the artichokes, and remove the lower outer two layers of artichoke leaves and discard them. Cut 1/2-inch off the artichoke tops and discard them.
Place the artichokes upright in a pan just large enough to hold them snugly. Pour in enough of the chicken broth or water to cover them. Add the bay leaf. Bring the artichokes to a boil, then lower the heat and cook them, covered, until you can easily pull away an artichoke leaf. Drain the artichokes and allow them to cool. Discard the bay leaf.
Remove the remaining large outer leaves. (Save them to nibble on as a snack.) With a spoon carefully remove the hairy chokes and discard them. With a spoon carefully remove the hairy chokes and discard them. You are now left with the artichoke hearts. Cut the hearts into ¼-inch slices and set them aside.
Toss the potatoes in a bowl with the salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Lightly butter a 14 x 9 x2 1/2-inch deep casserole or au gratin baking dish. Make a layer of potatoes in the dish, overlapping the potatoes slightly. Place half of the artichoke slices over the potatoes, then make another layer of potatoes and artichoke hearts, ending with a final layer of potatoes.
Slowly pour the milk or cream over the potatoes. Cover the dish with a sheet of aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Uncover the dish, sprinkle on the cheese, and bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until the cheese has browned slightly. Serve immediately.
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