Artichoke Sformatini

sformatini di carciofi

sformatini di carciofi

Behind a tough, thorny covering, the artichoke hides a tender and fragrant heart. Through the centuries, this contrast has inspired a number of literary productions, from Greek legends to contemporary poetry. And with all due respect to my Israeli friends, the artichoke’s reputation  in this sense even precedes that of the “Sabra”! While we think of the artichoke as a vegetable, it is technically the edible and tasty bud of a flower, which makes it even more romantic – not to mention the satisfaction of finally eating something that it took us two hours and a couple of knife accidents to clean.

In Italy, we are all notoriously obsessed with local food, and we all insist that our particular regional variety is the best (note to my Roman friends: please don’t even bother to comment and criticize under this post, our differences on the topic can not be reconciled!). Italian Jews like me are possibly even more passionate than the others about this topic, given that until at least the 1800s in Northern and Central Italy the Gentiles would not go anywhere near artichokes, which were considered some crazy Jewish ingredient.

In Venice, we buy the purple artichokes that come from Sant’Erasmo, the largest island in the lagoon. In the spring, if you are lucky, sometimes you can find the cream of the crop, the first tiny artichoke to grow on each plant, out of more than one hundred: these are called  “castraure” (kas-tra-OO-reh), because they are “castrated” (cut off ) in order to encourage more to flourish. I have seen my fellow Venetians get into violent fights at the Rialto market over these treasures, which are prized for their relative lack of pricks and their tender, melt-in-your-mouth interior.

While it’s not the same as eating the real thing along the canals of Venice, you can find pretty good artichokes right here in the U.S (my favorites are the ones from Montrey County, in California). Ever since the Italian immigration wave in the early 20th century, artichokes quickly became popular, and started selling for a high price. In the 1920’s, even the mafia invested in them, and when Ciro Terranova, “the Artichoke King”, took the artichoke wars to such extremes as to terrify produce distributors all over the country, Fiorello La Guardia, the legendary mayor of New York, declared illegal “the sale and possession of artichokes” iin the City. The ban was lifted after only one week: it seems that La Guardia, himself the son of Jewish Italian immigrants, admitted that he loved the vegetable too much to prohibit it!

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Sformato is a kind of savory custard, but fluffier, almost soufflé-like and usually including pureed vegetables. The name (sfohr-MAH-toh) means “unmolded” in Italian — from sformare, to turn out. It’s a very traditional recipe, found in many Italian regions and in most classic cookbooks, from “Il Talismano della Felicità” to “Il Cucchiaio d’Argento”. Tuscans, like my mom, are particularly fond of it and make it with every vegetable they can find!

Artichoke Sformatini

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

1 hour, 15 minutes

4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 artichokes (or 2 lb frozen artichoke hearts or bottoms)
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 shallot
  • 2 large eggs
  • For the Bechamel Sauce:
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp grated parmigiano or grana cheese (or more, to taste)

Directions

Clean the artichokes, eliminating the outer tough leaves and the chokes. Slice them. In a saucepan, heat 2 tbsp olive oil with a thinly sliced shallot for 2 minutes. Add the artichokes and barely cover with water or vegetable oil. Cook for about 10-15 minutes or until soft and until the water has been fully absorbed. Adjust salt. Blend in your food processor until smooth.

Make the béchamel sauce: melt the butter in a heavy pot over low heat. Add the flour, whisking continuously to prevent clumps. Cook on low heat until the flour disappears into the butter, without letting the butter turn brow. Start adding warm (not hot!) milk to the mix, stirring constantly with a whisk. Bring the sauce to a simmer, add salt and pepper and keep whisking almost constantly for about 30 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Taste, and add more salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. If you still ended up with some lumps, strain through a sieve. Remove from the heat, cover with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and allow to cool before combining with the eggs.

Whisk 2 eggs lightly in a bowl; stir in the béchamel sauce and artichoke puree and parmigiano cheese, and combine until smooth.

Butter the ramekins (you can use 6 6-ounce ramekins, or 4 larger ones, or 8 smaller. Baking time will vary depending on size). Dust with bread crumbs. Pour mixture into ramekins, and bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 F for about 25 to 40 minutes (depending on size), or until a light golden crust forms on top and the sformati are nice and firm. Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes, unmold and serve.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/02/27/artichoke-sformatini/

MORE IDEAS WITH ARTICHOKES:

Madonna del Piatto’s Artichokes & Lemon Salad

Academia Barilla’s Artichoke Fricassee

Jul’s Omelet with Artichokes

Lidia’s Stuffed Artichokes

JOK’s Artichoke Chicken

Barbara’s Lamb Shanks with Artichokes

Potato Puree

S 10 880 PURE DI PATATE

S 4 950 2 pure

The term “comfort food” originated in the US, and I’ve heard it used In Italy only recently, mostly by food-bloggers. That’s not to say that we didn’t have comfort food before, we just didn’t have a name for it. On top of that, our choices are often different. Where you go for hamburgers, we dig into spaghetti; when you take out the ice cream, we open the Nutella jar. There is one exception, a unifying, universal ingredient: mashed potatoes.  In Northern Italy, when a mom wants to comfort her kids after a not-so-great grade at school, a broken heart, or simply a long week of rain, she will serve this crowd-pleaser as a side: Pure’ di patate  (potato puree), a silky, creamy and scrumptuous blend of starchy potatoes, milk and butter.

While mashed potatoes can be dry, lumpy, hyper-garlicky, and even gloppy, puree is velvety smooth, and will win the pickiest palates over with its decadence. Not even your carb-phobic friends will be able to resist it.

* for a non-dairy version, replace the butter and milk with olive oil and vegetable broth.

* *if you are watching your weight, you could replace the whole milk with 1% and halve the butter; but do add some butter for flavor.

*** If you need to reheat it, you should add a little more hot milk or broth.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 pounds starchy potatoes (Yukon gold or russet, not too young)
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup milk, or a little more
  • salt to taste
  • a pinch of nutmeg

Directions

Cook the potatoes with the peel (whole, if they are small-ish, or halved or quartered if they are very large) in a pot of salted boiling water (30-45 minutes). If you are in a rush, you can cook them much faster in a pressure cooker or even in the microwave (about 15 minutes). Test them with a fork to make sure they are soft, and drain, discarding the cooking water. Allow them to cool until they are still very warm but not too hot to handle, and peel them.

1757_1 Patate

Put them through a ricer or potato masher, gathering them back into the pot. Place the top over low heat and add the butter, and then slowly the hot milk, stirring with a wooden spoon.

STEP 3 PURE' BICOLORE

Keep stirring until the puree is soft, smooth and silky! Adjust the salt, add a pinch of nutmeg, and serve immediately.

S 10 880 PURE DI PATATE

 

Potato Puree

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

1 hour

6 servings

CALORIES AND FAT: ignorance is bliss!

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds starchy potatoes (Yukon gold or russet, not too young)
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup milk, or a little more
  • salt to taste
  • a pinch of nutmeg

Directions

Cook the potatoes with the peel (whole, if they are small-ish, or halved or quartered if they are very large) in a pot of salted boiling water (30-45 minutes). If you are in a rush, you can cook them much faster in a pressure cooker or even in the microwave (about 15 minutes). Test them with a fork to make sure they are soft, and drain, discarding the cooking water.

Allow them to cool until they are still very warm but not too hot to handle; peel them, and put them through a ricer or potato masher, gathering them back into the pot.

Place the top over low heat and add the butter, and then slowly the hot milk, stirring with a wooden spoon. As you add milk, you can also switch to a whisk. Keep stirring until the puree is soft,

Smooth and silky! Adjust the salt, add a pinch of nutmeg, and serve immediately.

* for a non-dairy version, replace the butter and milk with olive oil and vegetable broth.

* if you are watching your weight, you could replace the whole milk with 1%, but do add some butter for flavor.

* If you need to reheat it, you should add a little more hot milk or broth.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2013/01/18/potato-puree/

 

 

Gratin Tomatoes

POMODORI RIPIENI

Ask any Southern Italian, or Italian American, to imagine cooking without the color and the fragrance of tomato, and they will probably tell you it’s impossible.

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However, the use of tomato spread in European kitchens fairly recently: although it was first introduced in the 16th century, the vast majority of people treated it as a pretty, but possibly poisonous, decorative plant for at least the next two hundred years. In Peru, Mexico and Chile, where it originated from, the natives also treated it as unedible.

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While nobody was stirring Marinara, alchemists were concocting plenty of potions featuring the new fruit, which was believed to have aphrodisiac powers when ingested in small amounts. This accounts for the romantic names the plant was given, from England and France (Love Apple, Pomme d’Amour) to Italy Pomo d’Oro, Golden Apple) .

It’s still unclear where and when, in Baroque Europe, someone first tasted the mysterious fruit. Maybe it was a brave and hungry farmer in Southern Italy, in times of famine. Maybe the Sephardic merchants of Livorno, who had first imported the seeds (this may be the reason why many tomato-based local dishes are called “Jewish-style” or “Moses-style”). Or it could have been a bored aristocrat in France, where tomatoes were only eaten at the Royal Court until well into the 18th century.

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In any case, once Europeans actually bit into it, there was no way back! According to Neapolitan screenwriter Luciano De Crescenzo, “ The discovery of tomato represented, in the history of food, a revolution comparable to what the French Revolution constituted in social history”.

Gratin Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • GRATIN TOMATOES
  • 8 medium tomatoes, firm (on the vine)
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus more for brushing
  • 1 1/2 cup to 2 cupsplain bread crumbs
  • 4 tbsps freshly chopped parsley, or 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 3-4 minced anchovies (oil-packed, or salt-packed and rinsed) (optional)
  • salt to taste (1/2 teaspoon or less)
  • black pepper
  • pine nuts, olives or basil leaves to decorate

Directions

Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally, scoop out the seeds and pulp, sprinkle the inside with salt and drain upside down for 30+ mins. Save the pulp.

In a food processor, mince the garlic, anchovies and herbs, and blend with the tomato pulp that you had set aside. Add the olive oil and the bread crumbs. Add the bread crumbs gradually and stop once the mix holds together without being too firm.

Stuff the tomatoes with the mixture, brush the top with little more oil, and bake for 35-40 minutes in a pre-heated 400 F oven.

http://dinnerinvenice.com/2012/06/28/gratin-tomatoes-12/

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