If I had to eat just ONE kind of vegetables my whole life I would probably opt for artichokes. My love for this vegetable is immense. I love their distinct flavor, their special texture and also the fact that they are not too easy to "handle". You have to do some work if you want to enjoy them and in that they're just like life. :)
Every time I'm back to Puglia, the Italian region where I grew up and where they are massively grown, I have an envy attack. Last time I went there I almost turned as green as an artichoke when I saw my favourite, thornless carciofi costing just 3 euros for 7 pieces at the market, grrrrrrrr!!! Why are they so expensive here in Holland and, most of all, often old and sloppy???
Anyway, back to the preparation of this wonderful vegetable. Cleaning it is a lot work (see photos and recipe) and you eliminate quite a lot of this amazing flower, as I often hear during my cooking workshops when I show how to do it. So what? What you have after all that work is something totally DELICIOUS, so definitely worth the hassle! And you can use it for a wonderful frittata just like I do.
10 eggs 6-8 small artichokes 50 g grated Parmesan cheese 2 garlic cloves a bunch of flat-leaf parsley salt and pepper a splash of milk or cream extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven at 180°C.
Clean the artichokes by removing the stems (which you can peel and use too like I did for this frittata! See TIP at the end of the recipe) then the hard, outer leaves (see how I do it in this video).
Place the artichokes in a bowl with cold water and a little lemon juice or vinegar so that they don't get dark. Leave them in their "bath" for at least 10 minutes.
Meanwhile lightly beat the eggs with a dash of milk or cream, grated Parmesan, salt and pepper.
Cut the artichokes into thin slices and fry them in olive oil together with the crushed garlic cloves. They usually tend to get too dry so add a little hot water from time to time and let them gently cook until soft. Season with finely chopped parsley, salt and pepper.
Lay the artichokes in a baking dish lined with baking parchment. Add the egg mixture and spread everything evenly inside the dish.
Bake the frittata in the oven for about 20 minutes or until it feels firm under your fingers and becomes golden brown.
Leave to cool a bit and serve lukewarm or at room temperature.
TIP: you can also eat the artichoke stems. First you have to trim the harder part around them and then put them in lemony water like the rest of the artichokes. After that you can stew or fry them together with the artichokes.
A classic traditional Spanish dish, paella is originally from
Valencia, a city on the East coast of the country. The original version
called paella valencianainvolves the use of
flat green beans, meat (mainly chicken and rabbit), white beans and
snails, but there are many variations that include only fish,
crustaceans and molluscs (paella marinera) or meat and fish together (paella mixta).
The wide, shallow pan used to prepare this recipe is the paella, also called paellera. Spaniards are quite divided about the right name for this beautiful cooking instrument: some prefer paella and some others argue that the correct name is paellera.
The Real Academia Española, the official institution that takes care of
setting the rules for the Spanish language, accepts both. For clarity
in the recipe we use the term paella for the dish and paellera for the pan.
When looking for one to buy, select it possibly with a thick enough
bottom to promote uniform cooking of the rice without burning it. This
has to happen in such an way that the rice is no longer stirred after a
first, initial stir so as to form that delicious crust on the bottom of
the pan that, together with the perfect cooking of all the ingredients,
characterizes a really well done paella.
This version by Oliver, a friend from the Spanish Canary Islands, is a paella mixta, with meat and fish together. The chorizo
used here is the classic Spanish pork sausage characterized by a
uniform red colour even in the fat parts since the meat and fat mixture
has been flavoured and “coloured” with pimentón, red smoked pepper powder, or more or less spicy paprika.
The use of fish, crustaceans and molluscs makes the preparation a little
more delicate than a paella with just meat as it is necessary to avoid
overcooking the prawns that would otherwise become unpleasantly flaky.
Add them when the rice is almost cooked calculating about three more
minutes on the stove. Also for cod and squid it is preferable to avoid
too long a cooking time (4 to 5 minutes maximum). Oliver cooks the
mussels long enough to ensure that the rice absorbs their juices and
flavour even better.
The video has Italian subtitles only but you’ll get what we mean by looking at the images and following the written recipe you find here.
250 g rice for paella or risotto
20 raw mussels in their shells
250 gr. fresh clean prawns (without head, shell and intestines)
3-4 large cleaned squid
150 gr. cod fillet
100 gr. bacon or pancetta
100 gr. chorizo (Spanish sausage)
150 gr. fresh shelled peas
4 medium tomatoes
2 red peppers
1 green pepper
2 red onions
4-5 cloves of garlic
extra virgin olive oil
2 pinches of saffron stigmas or powder
1 pinch of Cayenne pepper
2,5 dl. dry white wine
2,5 l. chicken stock
two lemons and flat-leaf parsley for garnishing
Heat plenty of oil in the paellera and fry the chopped onions in it.
Add the diced peppers and the finely chopped garlic and fry for a few
Add the chorizo, the bacon or pancetta and the blanched, peeled and
diced tomatoes together with the Cayenne pepper. Stir and cook for about
5-10 minutes on a medium heat.
Add the rice, raise the heat a little and stir well.
Pour the white wine, stir and allow the alcohol to evaporate.
Season with saffron, stirring well to give the rice a beautiful, uniform yellow colour.
Place the mussels on top of the rice and stir gently.
Add the peas and, immediately after, 4-5 ladles of hot stock which will have to cover the rice completely.
Cook the rice on a medium / high flame until almost cooked, adding stock from time to time if it gets too dry.
Add the squid cut into rings and the fish fillet into large pieces and
push them gently into the rice without moving it too much. Add more
stock if necessary.
Add the prawns to the paella about three minutes before the rice is
ready. Lay them on the rice and turn them so that they evenly cook on
both sides. If you don’t want to risk overcooking you can also briefly
sauté them in a pan with a little olive oil and then add them to the
paella once you take it from the fire. Season with a little salt if
Turn off the heat and let the paella rest for 5 minutes.
Serve garnished with chopped parsley and lemon slices.
The market in Bari, Puglia. 7 artichokes for 3 euros...
In the course of the almost 13 years that I’ve been teaching Italian cooking
I’ve noticed that some vegetables are a total mystery for a lot of amateur cooks.
Take fennel and artichoke, for
example: here in Holland I always have to demonstrate how to clean them
and what to use or throw away because most people have never had the
chance (or the courage) to actually “tackle” some of these wonderful
So if you can’t clean small Italian and French artichokes
(for the big French ones we’ll need another video since they’re quite
different…) not to worry! Nicoletta and Cime di Rapa come to your rescue! :)
Just watch this video, grab a bunch of beautiful Violets from France or small artichokes from Liguria or Puglia and gorge on them after cleaning them perfectly well!
I love to eat them raw, very thinly sliced, simply "dressed" with extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice. You can of course stew or bake them too, they always remain the most wonderful veggie on Earth!
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