Two-Cheese Stuffed Artichokes Appetizers – (Shhh! It’s really a meal)

Days on end with temperatures stuck below zero, occasionally warming into the single digits or teens to snow. Winter is here, a time when comfort food is never more comforting.

For the first time in several days, we woke this morning to temperatures above 0° Fahrenheit. With the relative warmth, a fresh layer of snow is beginning to accumulate. Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees are nearly constant visitors to the feeders outside our living room window, and from our home’s southwest windows is a view of a river locked in ice.

Aside from summer-caught salmon fillets and wild blueberries, lingonberries and mushrooms gathered near our Newhalen home, most of our groceries come to us by small plane from Anchorage. Out of the asparagus we’d asked for, our shopper at Costco recently substituted artichokes. They’re beautiful, but other than steaming them and creating some sort of buttery dip, we don’t have much experience with this vegetable.

As it happens, we’ve been watching Italian Food Safari, a show created in Australia where Italian families have lived for generations preserving and expanding on the gustatory traditions they brought with them to their new country. It was in one of the show’s episodes that we were introduced to the wonderful idea of stuffing artichokes.

While this dish requires a certain amount of passive preparation time in the form of soaking and steaming the artichokes, the actual preparation is fairly simple. Create a mixture that will steam well and compliment the vegetable, chill a bottle of Pinot Gris or dry Riesling, prepare couscous, brown rice or something similar as a bed for the finished artichoke, and if you’ve never served an artichoke this way before, prepare yourself to be amazed.

Directions

  1. For each artichoke, cut the stem off so that the artichoke will sit upright in a steaming pot. Then cut off the top 1½ inches or so of the artichoke as these ends are mostly prickly and inedible. Next, use a melon baller or paring knife to remove the fine, thistle-like down (the choke) in the center of the artichoke. Taking a moment to do this will result in a more pleasant dining experience. Soak the artichokes in cold water for 30 minutes. You will want to use something to keep them fully submerged. This will ensure they steam nicely.
  2. There are probably all kinds of ingredients that would work well as the stuffing, but you’ll want to avoid items that will overwhelm the subtle flavor of the vegetable. We started by peeling the artichoke stems, chopping them fine and placing them in a bowl. To this, we added chopped garlic, crumbled feta cheese, grated Comté cheese, panko, Italian herbs, olive oil and fresh lemon juice. The cheeses were sufficiently salty that we didn’t add additional salt. Adding a splash of sherry or whatever wine you plan to serve works well. Although we didn’t add any type of meat or seafood to this mixture – and after serving the artichokes agreed that most meat and seafood wouldn’t work very well – we did think that Dungeness or Blue crab might do the trick. Italian-style breadcrumbs would work well as a substitution for the panko. Mix the ingredients together.
  3. Remove artichokes from the cold water where they’ve been soaking and push and pull the petals apart to create spaces into which the mixture can be stuffed. Fill as many of these spaces as you reasonably can.
  4. Arrange the stuffed artichokes stem-side down in a steaming pan – one you’ve prepared so that the artichokes can steam without being immersed in water. A canning rack, or even canning jar lids, works well for this. Steam for 45 minutes.
  5. Finish the artichokes with a drizzle of olive oil and a dusting of smoked paprika. Serve hot on a bed of rice, couscous, quinoa or something similar and celebrate the day with a glass of Oregon Pinot Gris. Don’t forget to provide a bowl for the discarded petals.