Friday, September 20, 2019

Getting to the “Heart” of It

October 23, 2010 by  
Filed under Main Blog, Recipes

We have all found ourselves in a random conversation where someone asks the age old question, “If you got to choose, what would be your last meal?” The answer is so easy for me…stuffed artichokes! Throw in a really nice steak and I would die a happy woman. Stuffed artichokes are my favorite food that I grew up eating as a kid. Mom would start spreading the news early on days when she was preparing them. My sister, brother and I knew that meant we would each get our own artichoke to lovingly dismantle and devour. By the time Mom gathered us all for dinner, my belly was grumbling because I wouldn’t eat all day in anticipation of having enough room. I wanted to make it to the “heart”, which is the perfect, creamy, tender center of the artichoke. I have never and will never share a bite. Everyone has to draw the line somewhere. My line in the sand goes between me and someone trying to get a hold of my artichoke heart!

Today is the day that I finally share, but not a bite, just the recipe. Then you can decide if you are willing to give up a morsel for a friend or loved one. Good luck with that. Now down to business. Most of you are familiar with artichokes but if you are like many of my friends over the years, you have never had a whole artichoke. My grandfather loved them steamed and dipped in butter, but my Mom took them a little further and created a stuffing. I have played with this recipe and come up with many versions, which you can modify in a hundred different ways to make them your own, but we need to first talk about how to prepare the artichoke itself.

Artichokes can look a little daunting if you have never used them before. My only piece of advice when picking them out, besides trying to get them all the same size for even cooking, is to look for purple bruising. You want them to look a little beat up. I find these artichokes to be more tender. Once you have picked yours out you will also need the following:

Italian Bread Crumbs

Parmesan Cheese (I grate it myself, but grab whatever works for you.)

Salted Butter (No margarine or any phony substitutes!)

Salt, Pepper, Ground Garlic and Tarragon

The first step in putting all of this together is prepping the artichokes. I use a serrated knife to cut off the tips of the artichokes, roughly an inch or so. Then I cut off the stem, right at the base. You can save the stems for other dishes or steam and chill them for a salad. Just don’t forget to peel them (a potato peeler works perfectly.) The whole artichokes then go into a bowl with fresh lemon and tarragon to soak while the stuffing comes together. The lemon juice prevents the tips and bottom of the artichoke from turning brown. The tarragon is just to add a little bright earthy flavor.

Set your artichokes to the side and let’s get this stuffing going. I have created so many versions of stuffing over the years. This recipe is one of the first and still a favorite:

In a large mixing bowl combine  2 cups of Italian Bread Crumbs, 1 cup of grated parmesan cheese, tarragon, garlic, and salt & pepper to taste. If you use fresh tarragon, a 1/4 cup finely chopped should do the trick, or use a tablespoon of dried. Ground garlic is potent, so less is more. 1/8 of a teaspoon is equal to a whole large clove. I use the equivalent of 2 cloves. Next add one stick of melted butter. Mix this all together and your stuffing is complete. Pause, take a sip or two of wine and give your hands a good wash, because now we stuff!

Stuffing an artichoke is easy. It just takes a little time. Remove your artichokes from the water where they have been soaking and just give them an upside shake over the sink to remove the excess water. They will still be wet, but the moisture will help when they are steaming. Now take this same water and pour it into a steamer pot, because this will be the water that you steam your artichokes with. While your water is heating up, take an artichoke and hold it over your mixing bowl. Starting at the bottom, pull each leaf back a little and drop a sprinkle of stuffing in. Use as much or as little as you like. I only fill each leaf about halfway because I don’t want to fill up on breading. Continue stuffing as you work your way towards the center of the artichoke, and then sprinkle the last of the bread crumbs into the middle, creating a nice layer over the top. This recipe should be enough to stuff 2 large artichokes. Save any leftover crumbs in the fridge for your next stuffing, or use them as a salad topping (awesome!) But first, we gotta get these artichokes in our steamer pot, where they are going to slowly cook for the next hour or so.

You may wonder how you can tell when the artichokes are done. I take a small sharp knife and insert into the center, where it should easily go through if the choke is tender. Then there is one more step. I remove the artichokes and put them on a cookie sheet coated with a touch of olive oil. I place them in the oven at 300 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. This crisps up the top just a little and finishes off the stuffing perfectly! Pair this magnificent artichoke with the steak of your choice and you have got a plate fit for a last meal.

If you are new to the whole artichoke experience, here are a few pointers for maximum enjoyment:

As you begin to pull off the leaves, you will notice at the bottom there is a meaty part, which used to be attached to the heart. I turn the leave upside down and use my teeth to scrape out the filling and the meaty part of the leaf. The rest of the leaf can go into a bowl in the middle of the table which everyone can use. Once you work your way down to the center, the leaves get smaller and thinner, thereby harder to eat. The center will look something like this:

Now take a knife and carefully cut the remaining leaves away and this is what you have left…the creamy, tender, delicious reason why you have worked your way to this point…the heart!

If you have never had an artichoke heart that did not come from a can, then you have no idea what you have been missing. Save a few bites of your steak, because a bite of the artichoke heart pairs beautifully with a bite of steak.

The only element that could possibly complete this meal is the perfect wine. You don’t want something too big that is going to overpower the artichoke. If it wasn’t for the steak, you could actually go with a full bodied white, perhaps a white burgundy. In light of the New York Strip I am also serving, I am going with Arizona Stronghold ‘Nachise’, which is a wonderful Rhone style blend from winemaker Tim White. I love the way this wine is so delicate and so distinct at the same time. The aromas of sweet tobacco and subtle earth open up into soft dark fruit flavors with a lush mouthfeel and a touch of lavender. This is a wine that will stand up to a nice steak and still balance well with the earthy, sweet and creamy artichoke heart. I simply can’t wait to savor every bite and sip. All seems right with the world when I am sitting down to a meal like this. So, with no further ado, I am going to begin working my way toward the center of this magnificent artichoke. Cheers!

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