Tag Archives: artichoke

A stuffed lamb leg for Shy

5 Sep

I cooked dinner for a very demanding woman the other evening. Her name is… Doesn’t matter. You may know her as Shyster Jersey Lawyer Friend.

Shy likes her meat red. And so for her birthday dinner what was I gonna feed her, sanddabs?

This is a woman who you want on your side, at all times, if you catch my drift. One evening a while back I put a grilled chicken breast in front of my friend Shy and… Let’s just say that the next day I found myself alone and dealing with an especially ugly negotiation, as the lady somehow failed to recall that her shysterly presence had been very much required.

Red meat was the only plausible option for this birthday celebration, don’t you agree?

Rolled Lamb with Pecorino, Mint and Artichoke Stuffing is a recipe that comes from a restaurant in Rome called Sora Lella. I found it in a cookbook that I like a lot, Cook Italy, by Katie Caldesi.

So, you’ve got your boneless and butterflied leg of lamb, about a five pounder, all stretched out and seasoned with salt and pepper.

First you set down a layer of sliced Pecorino Romano.

Then 30 whole mint leaves.

And, lastly, two chopped garlic cloves and a 10-ounce jar of marinated (quartered here) artichoke hearts.

Roll it up and tie it real nice.

Sear all sides in a hot pan with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil.

Remove the lamb to an ovenproof casserole and deglaze the pan using two cups of dry white wine.

Then pour what’s in the pan into the casserole with the lamb and add 1 1/4 cups of water. Cover and place in the oven preheated to 475 F for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 325 F and cook for another 30 minutes. Remove the lid and cook another 30 minutes, or until cooked through.

Shy seemed to like it, and that’s all that mattered to me.

I’m gonna need her to show up at a thing with me pretty soon, y’know?

How the artichoke grows

2 Aug

This is the first artichoke harvested from my garden this year. It is in very good shape; so is the plant that it came from.

Whenever I slap a picture of an artichoke plant on my Facebook page, the Like button gets a pretty good workout. It’s not your typical plant for a home garden, and so most of us don’t get a chance to see it grow.

These next few pictures were taken in my garden here in Maine. I hope you enjoy watching the artichokes grow as much as I do.

I used to start from seed (in the dead of winter and using heated grow boxes that I built myself) but never had the slightest bit of luck doing that. And so I switched to buying plants from local farmers and getting them in the ground sometime in May.

It usually takes until midsummer for the first artichoke to appear. I always get a big kick out this.

Once the artichoke appears it tends to grow rather quickly. It’s always a single artichoke that pushes out first, and in a straight-up direction.

Once the first artichoke is established, others follow. You can see here, underneath and to the left of the larger artichoke, that another one has started pushing out as well, just at an angle.

And so it goes. New artichokes, on new stalks, growing until the plant winds things up in late summer or early fall.

You never know how many artichokes a plant will produce. Some that I’ve grown have pushed out around 10, others only a half dozen.

To me, the best thing about growing your own artichokes is being able to harvest the entire stalk. The stalks are normally removed when sold commercially, but they can be just as good to eat as the heart.

Well, that about does it, I guess. See you next week.

Sunday’s stuffed artichoke

20 May

Had you been raised in la famiglia di Signor Polpetta (you’re smart, figure it out), this would be more than just the familiar sight of a classic Italian-American antipasto.

It would be a small but not unimportant slice of Home. Because Sunday supper, the best family time of all, rarely took place without the stuffed artichokes.

We did not eat ours at the beginning of the multi-course meal, however. For us the artichokes were for later on, after we had started to digest the pasta and the meatballs, the roasted chicken and the veal cutlets, often even after the pastries and the coffee and the finocchio crudo (raw fennel, but you knew that). More often than not, in fact, the artichokes were eaten well after we had left the table and moved on to other things.

They were their own separate thing, these stuffed artichokes, meant for picking at when the mood struck, and so everybody didn’t eat them at the same time. They’d be had while on the sofa watching an afternoon ballgame, in the backyard playing cards, even sitting on the front stoop just before nightfall. There were plenty of Sundays where I didn’t get around to eating my allotted ‘choke until bedtime, standing in the kitchen or in front of the t.v. set or just gazing out the window to see what was happening on the street.

But I always got around to having one.

Stuffed artichokes aren’t meant to be eaten hot from the oven, you know. And do not zap them in the microwave either. Room temperature is the way to go here. Make them, leave them out on the kitchen counter, and when the mood strikes go and have at it.

Trust me on this. I’ve had lots of practice.

Me and the stuffed stuff go way back.

Much as I love the stems, they must be cut from the bottoms so that the artichoke can sit flat in a pan. (I trim the stems and cook them along with the artichokes, then hope like hell that nobody else has their eye on them.)

This next step really does require a sharp knife, so please make sure to use one. Basically you’re making a crosscut on the top so that you can get inside the artichoke to fill it with the stuffing.

This is what goes into the stuffing: breadcrumbs, cheese, pignoli (pine nuts), parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. Once you mix them all together you must add olive oil, but only enough to lightly bind it, otherwise it will be too oily.

I guarantee that when you look at the amount of stuffing you’ve prepared it will seem like way too much for just a couple of large artichokes. Thing is, it takes patience to stuff them properly, and if you are patient you will use up the stuffing mix. One at a time peel back each layer of leaves and begin cramming the stuffing down along the leaves and all the way around, until you’ve completed all the layers. This is not the time to be delicate, okay. Raw artichokes are tough as nails, so don’t worry about hurting them.

After they’ve been fully stuffed place the artichokes in a baking dish filled with about an inch of water, drizzle a little olive oil over them, cover with aluminum foil and toss into the oven preheated to 375 degrees F.

Artichokes are funny things, and I find cooking times will often vary wildly. The best thing to do is yank out a leaf after about an hour in the oven and see if it’s cooked enough. These large artichokes were ready after 1 hour and 20 minutes in the oven. Then I left them out, still covered in the foil, until they cooled to room temperature. (Doing this allows the flesh to soften a little more too.)

And there you go, a properly stuffed artichoke for you and yours.

No Sunday supper should be without it.

Stuffed Artichokes
Makes 2 large artichokes or 4 small ones

1 cup good breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (loosely packed)
1/4 cup raw pignoli (pine nuts)
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
Extra virgin olive oil (enough to lightly bind ingredients)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
In a bowl mix together all the ingredients.
Remove stems so that artichokes can lay flat in a pan, then make a crosscut at the artichoke tip to reveal its inner leaves.
Stuff the mixture into as many rows of inner leaves as you can, until all the filling is used up.
Place artichokes in a baking pan with an inch of water, drizzle just a touch of olive oil over each artichoke, cover with aluminum foil and bake for about an hour. Pull out a leaf to test for doneness; more time may be required.
Remove pan from the oven and leave it loosely covered in foil until artichokes come to room temperature and serve.

The garden grows

7 Jul

I don’t know about where you live, but gardening here in Maine last year was pure hell. When it didn’t rain it looked like it would. The ground was so wet, and for so long, that slugs and snails had the run of the place practically all summer long. A lot of people just gave up. Others threatened to, or wished they had.

Mercifully this summer is shaping up to be a good one. I have two plots at an organic community garden, totaling just shy of 300 square feet of growing space. After being away for a few days I discovered a lot going on. Here are some pics.

This is the first artichoke to show up. It’s the crop I’m most excited about. I have nine plants this year, twice as many as last.

Winters are too cold here for fig trees, so I potted one. The plan is to keep the tree small by pruning it heavily each year; and I’ll overwinter it in the garage, which I insulated last summer.

This is a first for me: cardoons. Looks just like an artichoke plant, as they’re closely related in the thistle family, but there’s no fruit here, just edible stalks.

The fava beans are way ahead of last year. Think it’ll be an early crop.

The chickpeas are also a first for me. Very cool-looking pods. Can’t wait to see how they turn out.

That’s it for now. More to come throughout the season, I’m sure.