When I was growing up, there was nothing I loved more than my mom's stuffed artichokes. Her simple Italian bread, olive and cheese stuffing tastes even better after it sits, so feel free to make it a day ahead. Though time-intensive to make, stuffed artichokes are a gustatory delight. Each time you scrape a leaf, you get a luscious bite of warm, chewy, aromatic stuffing. Though you could stuff the center only, stuffing the leaves as well makes for a more impressive presentation and enjoyable eating experience. Keep in mind that you may need slightly more or less stuffing depending on the size of your artichokes and on the amount of stuffing you use in the leaves. Also, the larger the artichoke, the longer the cooking time.
Makes 2 artichokes
2 globe artichokes, about 1 pound each
1 lemon, cut in half (for rubbing the artichoke)
1 teaspoon plus1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 loaf stale Italian bread, torn into small pieces
1/4 cup Kalamata olives, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh minced parsley
1 tablespoon fresh minced basil
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 tablespoon pine nuts
Salt, to taste
For the cooking pot
1 lemon, sliced (for cooking)
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
To make the stuffing, cut stale bread into a few thick slices and moisten with warm water, just enough to soften but not soak it. If it's too wet, then squeeze it dry with your hands. Tear the bread into small pieces (about 1/2 inch), and place in a large bowl.
Meanwhile place an artichoke on a cutting board and cut off the stem. Using a sharp knife, remove the fibrous outer part of the stem and discard. Cut the remaining center of the stem into long, thin strips, then dice. Saute in a small skillet with 1 teaspoon olive oil until lightly browned. Add to the bowl of bread. Add 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, chopped olives, crushed red pepper flakes, parsley, basil and cheese and mix well.
To toast the pine nuts, place in a small dry skillet over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes, or until golden brown. Shake the pan handle gently to ensure even toasting. Add to the bowl of bread and season generously with salt.
Mix the stuffing well with your hands, breaking up any large pieces of bread. If it seems too dry or crumbly, add a little more olive oil or water. If it's too moist, add a bit more bread. I usually taste it at this point and adjust the seasonings as necessary. (If making the stuffing ahead, then place in an air-tight container and store in the refrigerator up to 3 days).
To clean the artichokes, cut off about 1 inch from the top of the artichoke and discard. Using a pair of kitchen shears, trim off the tips of the remaining leaves, until they are straight across. Rub the leaves all over with a lemon half.
Using your thumbs, gently separate the leaves (the fresher the artichoke, the tighter the leaves). Pull out the purple-tipped, pointy leaves from the center and several surrounding yellow leaves until you reach the fuzzy choke. Using a small spoon, scoop out the fuzzy choke until the cavity is smooth. Then squeeze some lemon juice inside the cavity to keep it from oxidizing, or turning brown. Repeat with second artichoke.
To stuff the artichokes, begin by placing 2 to 3 tablespoonfuls of stuffing into the cavity of each artichoke to prevent the leaves from closing up over it. Then using your hands, fill each leaf with about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of stuffing, starting at the outermost leaves and working your way toward the center. Try not to overstuff the leaves early on, in case you run out of stuffing by the time you get to the second artichoke. You can always go back and add more.
To cook the artichokes, use a large, deep saucepan and fill it with 3 inches of water. Add a whole sliced lemon and 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil to the water. Place stuffed artichokes in the pan close together so they remain upright. Drizzle each with one teaspoon of extra-virgin olive oil. Cover tightly with a lid and bring to a boil for 10 minutes. Then lower the heat to a simmer, keeping the pan partially covered, and cook for 40 to 60 minutes, or until leaves are tender.
To check for doneness, try pulling a leaf from the artichoke, it should come out easily. Too much tugging means it needs to cook more. You can also insert a long, thin knife into the center of the artichoke; it should easily go through to the heart. Lift the knife straight out so you don't cut the heart.
Transfer cooked artichokes to a large plate or shallow bowl and let cool for 5 minutes before eating. Artichokes can also be kept warm by loosely covering with foil and eating within 15 to 20 minutes.