Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Stuffed artichokes (Anginares yemistes)

Artichokes are an incredible crop. Every spring, we see the first signs of their thorny leaves sprouting up out of the ground. Slowly, the leaves turn into a low shrub, overtaking the spot where they are growing. A month later, the first artichoke pops up; as the stem grows, more and more artichokes jut off it. If artichokes aren't your kind of food and you leave them on the plant, by the end of spring, they turn into a beautiful flower with furry purple thistles. The whole plant then starts drying up and slowly dies away down to ground level. You won't see any sign of the artichoke plant for the rest of the year, until the whole cycle starts up again next spring, without the touch of a human hand; nature takes care of this plant with her own cycle of weather patterns.

artichoke in flower

We have two rows of artichoke plants which fence the garden like a kind of hedgerow. They produce about 100 heads per season. In Greek cuisine, fresh tender artichokes are eaten raw in a salad, or stewed in red or white sauce. They can also be baked with meat in the oven as a substitute for potatoes. We recently gave our Sicilian neighbour some of our excess crop, and it was her use of them that gave me my idea for these Italian-style stuffed baked artichokes.

stuffed baked artichokes stuffed baked artichokes

1. Snip off half of each leaf on each artichoke, and cut off the stem, but leave the thick outer leaves on the artichoke, so that they form a cavity above the heart.
2. Boil the artichokes in some water for a few minutes, then drain them and scoop out the furry choke and pull out the purple tinged leaves in the centre.
3. Fill each artichoke with approximately 2 tablespoons of mince mixture (like the one for makaronada).
4. Make a bread and herb topping with some grated cheese, and sprinkle over the mince. It doesn't matter if it falls in between the remaining leaves of the artichoke.
5. Place them on a baking tray, drizzle olive oil over them, and pour some water in the tin a third of the way up the artichoke.
6. Cook on high heat for an hour. To test the artichoke heart for 'doneness', insert a knife through it. It should pierce the heart easily.

stuffed baked bartichokes

When they are ready to serve, peel off each leaf and eat the bit of heart that remains on them as they are pulled away, finally working towards the tender heart, which may be spooned off with the filling from the tough base. The actual leaf will still be too tough to eat; only a small bit is edible at the base.

This dish makes a great appetizer at a dinner party, something I haven't held myself or been to in a while; this must have something to do with all the good dining-out opportunities we get in Hania...

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