May 21, 2010

Happy Talk

My mom’s name is Ann Marie, and my name is Anina Marie. In Italian, “Anina” means “little Ann”.  It’s like my parents knew upon my birth that they had just cloned my mother.  I accepted at a very young age that if I hadn’t already, one day I would absolutely turn into my mother.  I was right. And guess what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Among the many qualities we share, one in particular drives the men in our lives crazy. We have the ability to watch the same movie over and over again, year after year.  We also like to categorize our movies, based on seasons. Some make perfect sense, for example White Christmas and Meet Me in St. Louis can be watched the day after Thanksgiving (over and over again) until January 1st. Others seem a little random. For instance My Fair Lady is definitely a February movie, Anne of Green Gables is a September-October movie, and Parent Trap (starring Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills) can be played anytime between Memorial and Labor Day. I have taken this categorization one step further. I have developed an interesting habit of pairing movies to what I’m cooking…  Sense and Sensibility is played when making soup, Sabrina when I’m baking. More on this curious practice later.

Another trait that I inherited from my mom is a zealous love of artichokes.  Given the opportunity, we could probably eat our combined weight in artichokes. We are that passionate about this vegetable.

During artichoke season, we make them lots of different ways. Sometimes braised, or poached, with lemon aioli or maybe some toasted breadcrumbs on the side for dipping. But our preferred preparation is Nonna’s Stuffed Artichokes. Hands down, it’s the best way to eat an artichoke. 

I get unbelievably excited around mid April when the purple and globe shaped artichokes start showing up in the produce section.  Not only does this mean artichoke season has sprung, it means it’s time for South Pacific. South Pacific is the perfect length for an afternoon of artichoke making.  It will carry you through the trimming, the soaking and the stuffing with time to pause for two replays of “Some Enchanted Evening”. Nothing makes me happier than stuffed artichokes and South Pacific.

Stuffed Artichokes

I got a little carried away a few weeks ago and decided to stuff the really big globe artichokes. This resulted in having to take out every pot I own to find one large enough to fit all three globes, which incidentally ended up being the largest stockpot I possess. Yes, they were that big.

I asked Nonna if Great Grandma Tocco ever made stuffed artichokes.  I mean the lady had twelve kids. Who on earth would try and cook twelve stuffed artichokes? Well, certainly not Great Grandma Tocco. She never made less than twenty-four.  To be fair, she did have two ovens to work with. But still. Twenty-four stuffed artichokes would definitely require a double feature.

2 lemons, halved
3-5 garlic gloves
Italian breadcrumbs
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste

Fill a pot cold water. Squeeze two lemon halves into the water.

To trim the artichokes, begin with chopping off the stem as close to choke as you can so that the artichoke can stand up. Rub cut surface with lemon halve to prevent discoloration. Then, peal off the bottom outer leaves and any leaves that look tough or unhealthy. With scissors, trim 1/2 inch off the top of the remaining leaves. Again, rub cut surface with the lemon halve. Put both stem and artichoke into the bowl of lemon water. Let soak for 45 minutes to an hour.

In the meantime, season your bread crumbs with salt and pepper. Maybe throw in some grated Parmigian-Reggiano, some minced garlic or even some chopped anchovies for some real flavor.

Remove the artichokes from the water and proceed to fill the leaves with your bread crumb mixture. Place them back into the drained pot, along with the stems, so that they are standing up straight. If you need to, put some potatoes in between the artichokes to make sure everyone stays straight. Then at the end, you get artichokes and potatoes!

Drizzle the olive oil over the stuffed artichokes so that the mixture is moistened and won't fall out during the cooking process. Toss in the whole garlic cloves.

Submerge the artichokes in cold water, adding an additional few chugs of olive oil. Add a few pinches salt. Cover and cook on medium high until you can stick a fork through the stems and the leaves are starting to fall off, for at least an hour. Probably more, if like mine, your artichokes are on steroids. As the water cooks down, make sure you baste the artichokes every 20 minutes or so to ensure even cooking.


  1. I also love artichokes... I rarely see any in Osaka and they never look good. Reading your post I had the impression of eating a little bit of them ! Thanks.

  2. Look fantastic! artichokes and hearts of palm are the best!

  3. Amazing, It looks really pretty. Mm.

  4. what beautiful artichokes...I'm sure Nonna and Grandma Tocca would be proud...she sounds like my Abuela, she had 9 children and adopted one, I don't think she liked odd numbers!!
    What a great story, and such a wonderful recipe for stuffed artichokes...I particularly love the purple ones...I have never seen that variety!
    thanks for sharing...and your images are just incredible!

  5. Gourmande, that is sad that you don't get to experience fresh artichokes, but I'm sure Osaka must get amazing ingredients that can't be found in Cambridge, Massachusetts!

    Tomato Snob, I absolutely agree.

    Linn, Thanks, I think they taste as pretty as they look, but I'm slightly bias!

    Chef Dennis, I'm inspired everyday by my mother and my Nonna. I so wish I had known my great grandmothers Tocco and Chinni. The best I can do is to continue to tell their stories and share their food so that their memories stay alive.

    Purple artichokes are the best! They lose the purple color after they are boiled (I've never tried grilling them). We find the purple variety particularly pungent and meaty.

  6. Anina--My mother made stuffed artichokes exactly this way with one addition. If she had ham in the house, she added some ground to the stuffing. I still make artichokes this way. I like them hot or cold with a lemon vinegarette. Cheers! Annie

  7. AnonymousMay 25, 2010

    I make them in a pressure cooker, just as delicious but done to tender perfection in TWENTY MINUTES, I use chicken broth instead of water as the poaching die for !

  8. Lovely post, really. I love the movie pairings. Also, I'm so happy you posted this recipe. My great grandma Buscemi used to make these (for our very large family) and I wasn't sure how to replicate them, now I do!

  9. There's something about stuffed artichokes that's just so tempting...specially with garlic and lemon!

  10. Annie, That sounds great! I have an inexplicable love for anchovies, and more often than not, they get tossed in with some extra garlic. Tom would love the addition of ham though, so I will have to try it.

    Anonymous, I would be in serious trouble if it only took me 20 minutes to cook artichokes...It would be artichokes for dinner every night!

    Jennifer, Thanks so much. I hope you are successful with your replication. When I asked my Nonna which great grandmother she learned this recipe from, she said it's a combination of the two, so really these artichokes are her own. No matter how many times I try and reproduce her recipes and flavor profiles I never seem to hit the nail on the head. With each attempt I feel as though I'm getting closer...or maybe I'm simply claiming my own style. Thus the evolution of family recipes continues.

    Momgateway, Absolutely! It's a temptation worth indulging in.