Despite my astonishingly WASPy name, I am in fact half Italian-American. It's the side of the family that I grew up with more, and culturally how I identify myself. The various branches of my mother's family hail from three places in southern Italy: Salle a hamlet in Abruzzo; Benevento, a medium-sized city not far from Napoli; and Reggio di Calabria, the very tip of the toe of the boot. Our family recipes are a hybrid of the influences of these three regions.
If most people eat to live, Italians live to eat. Every holiday has its obligatory dishes, and every person (well, woman) in the family has her requisite dish(es) to produce. My mother is responsible for stuffed artichokes, to be made at Easter and also at Thanksgiving. She inherited this recipe from her mother, who no doubt got it from hers and so on.
Here in California, where the artichokes come from, most people just steam them and dunk the leaves in mayonnaise, aioli or drawn butter. In my family, artichokes are stuffed with a breadcrumb mixture and then braised until tender. The outer leaves get packed with a savory, bready bite, giving way to the soft inner leaves and finally the creamy heart. They're good warm, but best served at room temperature and are even not bad cold. Somewhat unusually, they are always served as part of dessert. The full recipe with plenty more pics (featuring my mother, the hand model) after the jump.
The measurements for the stuffing are approximate at best. As is typical with much traditional Italian food, measurements are made in the palm of the hand or by eye, not in a spoon or a cup. I have tried to approximate amounts, but will include the method my mother uses to eyeball the amounts. The amount of stuffing this recipe is far more than you actually need, even for these ginormous head-sized artichokes my mother got.
8 large artichokes
1 15-oz. can Italian-style breadcrumbs
4 oz. grated parmesan (from the can is OK, even preferable)
1-1/2 Tbsp black pepper
1/4 c. dry oregano
3 Tbsp garlic salt
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Fill a large stock pot with water and squeeze the juice of one lemon into it, adding the squeezed lemon halves; this acidulated water will prevent the artichokes from going brown prematurely. Trim the stems from the bottoms of the artichokes and reserve in the acidulated water. With a pair of kitchen shears, snip the spiny tips off all the leaves of the artichokes, and with a sharp knife lop off the top 1/2 inch or so of the choke. Place in acidulated water.
Mound the breadcrumbs in a large bowl. Add each of the remaining dry ingredients, just enough to cover the mound. (This is where "season to taste" lives up to its meaning; the amounts are highly subjective.) Remove stems from acidulated water, peel and chop very finely; add chopped stems to dry ingredients. Mix together thoroughly.
Remove each artichoke from water, drain upside down for a moment. Arrange in a large roasting pan. Taking each choke, gently spread apart the leaves around the sides. Don't worry too much about the leaves toward the center. Holding the choke over the dry mixture, gently pack the breadcrumbs around the sides. Don't try to pack too densely -- just lightly pat the crumbs around and allow them to settle into the crevices between the leaves. Shake off excess. Again, gently pry apart the leaves on the sides to allow the crumbs to settle in. Return to roasting pan.
Once all the chokes are packed, add about 2-3 Tbsp salt to the pan and fill to approximately 1 inch with water. Sprinkle a light dusting of garlic salt and black pepper over the tops. Slosh a generous amount of oil over the top of each artichoke -- really drench it. Then, with a baster, thoroughly soak each artichoke with the water from the bottom of the pan.
Create a foil tent over the roasting pan, sealing well around the edges. Place in oven in the middle rack. After about 90 minutes, peel back foil and baste the artichokes again. From this point, begin testing artichokes for doneness: If the leaves pull out easily, then they're done. This could take anywhere from 90 minutes to upwards of three hours depending on how large and tough the chokes were initially. These big boys took about two hours total.
Remove the artichokes from the braising liquid and let cool. They will keep refrigerated for a few days, and are best made a day ahead or at least earlier the morning of. Serve warm, room temp or even cold.