Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The "heart" of my family and my table

Hi guys. I’ve been feeling a little under the weather lately and haven’t been up for blogging so much. However, I promise I’ll have a whole bunch of new content this week starting with this great lunch/snack/side dish item.

Artichokes. Yum.
Let me begin by telling you why I love this vegetable. My mother, a pure-blooded Italian-American, is generally more of the Semi-Homemade Sandra Lee School of Cooking, as opposed to the Pancia Mia Fatti Capanna Italian Nonna School of Cooking. She’s a good cook but like many mothers, she likes her short cuts and recipes her mother used to make rarely made it to the dinner table (They did occasionally make it to the holiday table which is why I was blessed to eat Calamari and Anguilla as a child…right up until my cousin told me they were eel and squid! Forgiveness for this is impossible.).
Also like most mothers, Mom tried not to buy pricier items until they came on sale. This accounted for the “extreme cereal binges” of my youth in which my mother would purchase multiple boxes of my favorite cereals and then vigorously encourage me to eat them all before they expired (To this day I have difficulty opening that cabinet in her kitchen).
There were a few family dishes that my mom did make for us and steamed artichokes is one of them. Due to the high price of artichokes, this precious commodity only came around when there was a sale, which made them a delicious treat for my sister and I to enjoy.
It was until I was older that I realized many people had never eaten an artichoke. Most of those who had ate the “hearts” out of a can or in salads. Most people didn’t know how to eat a whole artichoke and the few who did (mostly other Italians) made theirs with a ton of breadcrumbs stuffed between the leaves. I’ve eaten it that way before, it’s tasty, but it doesn’t compare to Mom’s.
My mother’s artichokes are simple and seasoned to merely complement the natural flavor of the vegetable, not mask it. I find it as delicious today as I did when I was kid and of course, I can never seem to make it as good as mom does.
I also promised you a better use for that Spicy Tomato Dip from last post. Well this is it. I’ve always preferred my artichokes plain, but as I had a lot of dip leftover I decided to try dipping the artichoke leaves. The result was great, the tomato flavor really meshed well with the artichokes. I still like to eat mine plain, but this was a fun way to change it up a bit.
Mom’s Artichokes
This is a family recipe that’s been passed down, so these “measurements” are guestimates I made up. I can only share what my mother said when I first asked her the question, How much? She said, “Erin, you just know!” Cooking times also vary depending on size of the artichoke.
  1. Take your artichoke and cut the stem leaving only a ¼ to ½ inch left (Make the cut level so that the artichoke can sit in the pot). Cut off the top ¼ or so of the artichoke. Most leaves have a sharp tip that is annoying to contend with.
  2. Next, mince garlic for “stuffing”. I’ve been known to use 2 garlic cloves for one artichoke if it is really big, but use your judgment. Nothing is cooking yet so you can always mince more if you’re no happy with the amount.
  3. Now you stuff the artichokes by taking a little bit of the garlic and stuffing it in between the leaves working one at a time from the outside in. Try and push it down as best you can, but don’t force it and break the leaf off.
  4. Sprinkle the artichoke with salt and pepper according to your tastes. We’ve always had it a little heavier on the pepper side and it seems to really make a difference flavor wise.
  5. Drizzle olive oil over the whole artichoke. Be sure not to spray the oil from a mister because drizzling will help push the garlic, salt and pepper further down the leaves where the “meat” is. If you’re on a diet, as I am, use only a tablespoon. If you’re not, feel free to adjust according to your tastes.
  6. Place each artichoke standing up in a pan (that’s big enough to fit all the artichokes you’re using in one row) and fill up to half the height of the artichoke with cool water.
  7. Cover, turn the stove to medium heat and cook until you can easily pull an outside leaf off the artichoke*.
*This can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 30 depending on the size and heat. Check it often and don’t take it out until it’s ready. There’s nothing tougher than an undercooked artichoke!
  1. The water will evaporate as you go, so peek in every once in a while to check if it needs replenishing.
  2. Don’t forget to scoop out the dreaded choke before you get to the heart. If you’re confused about these terms and why it’s such a production just to eat one vegetable, there’s a great tutorial on how to eat an artichoke here.
Mom’s artichokes are a treasured staple in my family and I’m confident that they will be in yours as well. Whether eaten as lunch, part of a light dinner or just cooking up a small one as a snack, they’re just perfection.


  1. I love artichokes, now I can make them myself, thanks Erin!

  2. Can't wait to try this recipe! And I remember a certain Eggo waffle binge I was forced to go on after my Mom got her Costco membership.