Artichokes were a sign of spring in our house
I don’t remember how old I was the first time I ate an artichoke.
Not the marinated hearts found in antipasto or salad. I love them too.
Not the kind found in that amazingly delicious bar dip that allegedly has spinach in it too but is a hot and cheesy dip.
I am talking about the kind you scrape against your teeth and wonder, “is this really how you eat them?”
Carciofi (Italian for artichokes) are my favorite this time of year.
My mom or my aunt or an older cousin would bake them as soon as they were in season. We would sit around the table and eat together. I don’t remember my dad or my brother joining us. For some reason it stands out in my memory as a woman’s thing.
We would scrape the artichoke and the stuffing on the end into our mouths. A pile of discarded leaves would begin to form.
It was delicious. But not very filling. I think it was more about the experience of preparing the artichokes and cooking them and then eating them together.
We would laugh, share family news and just scrape away.
The ingredients were always household staples: 2.5 cups Italian bread crumbs, 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese and asiago cheese grated, 1 teaspoon oregano, 1/4 cup parsley minced, 5 cloves garlic minced and salt and pepper to taste. Also, 1/3 cup lemon juice, 5-6 tablespoons olive oil is needed.
It’s the applying of the paste mixture evenly and throughout the artichoke globes that takes time and, of course, the waiting for them to cook and become softened.
The smell of the artichokes, cheese and garlic would waft through the house and would bring me to the kitchen to see what was happening.
My mom would usually be sitting at the kitchen table, maybe her neighbor Carmen would be sitting at the table with her and I would join them. I would wait for them to be finished and cool enough to touch.
There is nothing like a stuffed artichoke fresh from the oven. The smell, the cheese and the tasty carciofo made for a delicious meal.
When I was little my parents would remind me not to eat the thistles inside. And like the good parents they are, they told me the parts you don’t eat were poisonous. Turns out this is not true, but I believed it for many years.
It is believed that Catherine de’ Medici brought artichokes to the French when she married King Henry II of France. Artichokes are also allegedly an aphrodisiac. The vegetable is tough on the outside and soft on the inside.
In Rome, they deep fry artichokes. According to devourromefoodtours.com, “Carciofi alla giudia are eaten whole. First you pick off and eat the outer leaves, which are like potato chips, and then you move on to the center, which has a rich, buttery consistency and flavor.”
I will have to try that some time, sooner rather than later, I hope.
Do you have a story about growing up Italian, either in Hammonton or anywhere else? Send it to email@example.com.