If you are in Florence in early spring, take a moment to admire the piles of gorgeous purplish-green and wine-colored artichokes at the Mercato Centrale near San Lorenzo. They are so tender that they can be cut into thin slices and eaten raw in salads. Ask the vendors how they like to cook them, and you could get enough versions to write a cookbook. I have grown artichokes in my own garden to my great surprise but the season is usually not long enough, and the plants were started early in the greenhouse.
Use globe artichokes, which are not anywhere near as tender as Italian varieties, but knowing how to cook them yields good results. In this recipe the artichokes are boiled briefly, then hollowed out to remove the hairy choke and filled with ground pork and baked in the oven with fresh tomatoes.
4 large artichokes (about 2 pounds)
1 pound ground pork
1/3 cup diced onion
2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley leaves
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
Grinding of coarse black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 1/2 cups fresh crushed plum tomatoes
With a knife, remove the stems of the artichokes and discard them. With your hands, pull off the first layer of artichoke leaves at the base and discard them. Cut 1/4-inch off of the tops of the artichokes, and with a scissors snip any needle-like points off the leaves. Rinse the artichokes, place them in a saucepan just large enough to hold them snugly upright, and cover them with water.
Bring the artichokes to a boil, cover the pan, and boil them for 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon remove the artichokes to a cutting board. When cool enough to handle use a melon baller to scrape out the hairy choke from the center of the artichoke, and pull away the palest-looking innermost leaves. Set the artichokes aside while you make the filling.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Heat a dry sauté pan over medium-high heat. Stir in the pork and cook until it begins to exude its fat. Discard most of the fat. Stir in the onions and continue cooking until the onions have wilted and the meat begins to brown. Transfer the meat mixture to a bowl. Stir in the parsley, salt, pepper, oregano, and cheese. Allow the mixture to cool slightly.
Fill the cavities of the artichokes with the meat mixture, packing it in gently. Place the artichokes in a deep casserole dish just large enough to hold them. Pour the tomatoes over and around the artichokes. Cover the pan with a cover or a piece of aluminum foil.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Halfway through the cooking time, check to see if the bottom of the pan is dry; add a little water if necessary.
Serve the artichokes hot.
Tip: To keep artichokes upright while cooking, position chunks of potatoes between them in the pot.
This recipe is from CIAO ITALIA - B RINGING ITALY HOME by Mary Ann Esposito, published by St. Martin's Press in 2001.
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