There is no better place to linger over a meal on holidays or weekends, than one in which you can watch ships cruising past in the distance or waves crashing on the shore.
Meals on the Amalfi Coast and all of Southern Italy often involve the simplest fresh locally seasonal ingredients. Frozen ready made meals are unheard of and pizza if not home cooked, is a meal that comes directly from the wood fired oven in the restaurant closest to you, rather than a packet. Time and care is taken in preparation from scratch and often recipes are ‘family hand-me downs’ generation to generation.
Spring seasonal food in southern Italy is heralded by fresh asparagus from the mountains, Fava beans (broad beans) from the garden and artichokes from the shop.
I love finding artichokes as extras on menus at Positano in April and May as I can be sure they are fresh and cooked in a traditional way. Roasted in coals, conserved in oil, with pasta or potatoes, as a parmigiana ingredient instead of eggplant, artichokes are sought after and valued in Southern Italy. The exquisite Island of Procida in the bay of Naples even has its own Artichoke Festival in April!
When the artichoke season unfolds in Italy in early Spring, my family squeals with delight when they hear that tasty stuffed artichokes are on the menu at my place. They love them prepared this way so much that my son used to ask for them before he could talk by miming the action used to eat them. I shared the recipe with Anna Savino from Itali Anna who said they were a big hit at her place too.
The basic recipe I use comes from my mother-in-law, and was a poor man’s meal, using left over pieces of stale bread rather than breadcrumbs but essentially the recipe is the same. There are no measurements here. If you like olives, add extras; same for capers etc. I use about 5 to 6 olives per artichoke and the same for capers. You will have to take your own initiative regarding the amount of breadcrumbs depending on the size of the globe.
They take a bit of time to stuff leaf by leaf but if you are only making a couple, life is simpler. They really are a slow food, as they are eaten leaf by leaf by holding the leaf with your fingers and scraping the flesh off with your teeth which is messy and can take a while as you can imagine. But they are oh so good!
Fleshy artichokes with their stems, preferably round and not too big
Potatoes baby or cut into wedges
Salted capers, rinsed
Olives -green or black
A garlic clove
Artichoke stems peeled
Cut the stem off the artichoke, peel the stem of its fibrous exterior to get to the tender heart. Place stem directly in water and lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Peel two bottom layers of the artichoke’s leaves off and discard. If the artichoke has spines on the outside cut them off with a knife. Firmly hit the artichoke upside down on the chopping board to loosen the leaves and throw it into the lemon water too.
Place all the stuffing ingredients except breadcrumbs into a processor and chop roughly. Tip into a bowl and mix in breadcrumbs and a good douse of extra virgin olive oil. Starting from the outer leaves place a small amount of stuffing at the base of each leaf with a tea spoon, turning and filling the artichoke until you reach the middle.
If there is stuffing left over after you have filled them all, a little can be placed in its heart (centre).
Place artichokes in a shallow pot or tin. Peel baby potatoes and place them between the artichokes to help them stay upright. Place a little water at the bottom of the pot, add salt to artichokes and a generous round of oil on top. Cover tightly and cook for 20-30minutes depending on the size and tenderness of the vegetable.
Check regularly to see that the water does not dry out. The artichokes will be cooked when the outer leaf detaches easily from its base.
Rest them awhile, take your time and slowly enjoy the taste of Spring…