Confessions and Carciofi
Sometimes when we are out in public, Giuseppe pretends not to know me. Such occasions have occurred in public busses, ferries to Capri, airports, shopping malls and most recently, the misleadingly named electronics store, Expert, in Castellammare di Stabia. These events usually follow the same arc: I sense general Neapolitan chaos is about to erupt; Giuseppe tells me to calm the f*ck down; I develop an imperious American attitude; Giuseppe walks away and whistles ‘o sole mio; I loose all grip on reality and respond to said chaos in much the same way Joan Crawford responds to the Pepsi Boardroom in Mommie Dearest…’Don't fuck with me fellas. This ain't my first time at the rodeo.’
I am ashamed to admit I caused a similar stir at the Expert electronic store last week. If Best Buy sets my teeth on edge, and the Container Store stresses me out, the Expert turns me into a vitriolic jingoist on the warpath to establish law and order in a wayward Naples. It is said that Ancient Romans considered the Solfatara volcano crater in Pozzuoli (outside of Naples) the entrance to hell. I am fairly confident that if these Ancients were around today, the Expert electronics shop in Castellammare would be considered the modern day equivalent.
When we arrived there last week, Expert was particularly infernal. Some crackpot Samsung flat screen TV promotion was going on and Giuseppe along with half of greater Naples had arrived to claim his half-price, half-baked television set. Imagine roughly 1600 Neapolitans waving newspaper coupons, refusing to mind queues and shouting in brash unison, “where is my TV?” as if we were all awaiting WWII flour rations. I was feeling a bit febrile that day and with the mayhem mounting, I predictably degenerated into one of my ‘mommie dearest’ moments.
Neapolitans, my latest target, had become my wire hangers. I screamed at Giuseppe for his lack of consideration for my delicate American constitution, I cursed the South of Italy for its general lack of order, I berated Expert for its lack of service. And just around the time Giuseppe commenced whistling the familiar ‘o sole mio, for reasons I still fail to understand, I threw at plastic water bottle at him. Instead of hitting Giuseppe, the water bottle ricocheted off a combination washer/ dryer, past a squat lady with a bouffant and struck a large man, with a prominent gold crucifix and possible connections to a certain unsavory criminal organization, directly in the chest. Giuseppe took one look at me and dragged me out of Expert.
After quickly smoking a Slovenian Marlboro, Giuseppe haphazardly maneuvered our car out of the Expert parking lot/three ring circus, and I, per usual, returned to my normal Zen-like disposition, roughly two minutes post eruption. As we crossed the border between Castellammare and Gragnano, I noticed an old man selling festive looking, early spring artichokes by the road. I had to have them, and thinking it best just to placate me, Giuseppe acquiesced, purchasing a dozen beautiful globes.
Naturally I had no idea how to cook them. These artichokes, known as Mammole, or Roman artichokes, have no spiny center and are more tender than their Californian counterparts. What had initially attracted me to these chokes, their festive looking greenery, now stymied me. I was unsure how to clean them, and had no idea what part to cook and what part to discard.
Silvana, my friend and favorite cooking teacher, set me straight. First, as I learned, the artichokes must be soaked overnight in a bath of water and lemon. After that, things are easy. It is important to note that cleaning Mammole Roman artichokes is easier than cleaning Californian artichokes because there is no obnoxiously spiny center.
Other than that, just snip of the tough outer leaves and leaf tips and cook away. Artichokes are of course typical of the Roman diet. This recipe comes from Silvana’s mother Elvira, who was considered a bit racy in her time because she read books about regional cuisine and occasional cooked new dishes. Silvana has inherited her mother's incredible culinary prowess. Her stuffed artichokes are a hybrid of traditional Roman cooking methods and Neapolitan ingredients. As Silvana calmly cleaned the artichokes and reminisced about her mamma, I completely forgot about the traumatic day’s events at Expert. The new flat screen TV remains un purchased but who needs TV when one has carciofi.
Serves 6 as a secondo and 12 as a contorno
- 12 Roman artichokes (If you are unable to find Roman Artichokes, you can substitute Californian artichokes but there are additional cleaning steps as I will outline.)
- 2 lemons, cut in half
- 5 eggs
- 2 teaspoons salt
- Cracked pepper (to taste)
- 3 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 whole garlic cloves
- 3 cups bread crumbs
- ½ cup grated Parmesan
- 1 ½ lbs fresh Italian Sausage
- Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
- 3 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
- If your artichokes come still attached to their stalks, cut off all but two inches of stalk. Discard the chopped off stalk
- Shave the remaining, attached part of the stalk with a carrot peeler to remove rough fibrous exterior
- Pull off the tough outer leaves of the artichoke and discard
- With scissors, cut off the pointy tips of the artichoke leaves (which are really more aptly called petals because the artichoke is a flower)
- Place the artichokes in a large bowl or your sink and cover with water
- Add lemon halves and soak overnight or for at least four hours
- When soaking is complete, prise open the center of the artichoke globe with your thumbs to prepare for stuffing. (If you are using Californian artichokes with spiny centers, slice artichokes in half and remove spiny interior with a spoon.)
- Chop off remaining artichoke stalk, cut into half-inch coins, and set aside
- Whisk eggs, salt, pepper, 2 tablespoons parsley and minced garlic in a medium bowl.
- Add Parmesan and bread crumbs and stir with a wooden spoon until porridge like in consistency.
- Add one half of reserved artichoke stalks to breadcrumb mixture
- Stuff each artichoke with breadcrumb mixture, using the back of a spoon to firmly press down. (If you halved your artichokes, their appearance will differ but they can be stuffed just the same.)
- Removing sausage casing, crumble sausage and place over breadcrumb mixture inside artichoke, pressing firmly into each artichoke globe
- Place artichokes in one large, wide brimmed sauté pan or two medium, wide brimmed sauté pans. They will fit snuggly.
- Top artichokes with an additional grating of Parmesan, remaining parsley and a drizzle of olive oil.
- Scatter the remaining artichoke stalk coins and whole garlic around the artichoke globes.
- Add three cups of water to sauté pan (or divide evenly between two sauté pans), bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer.
- Cover and simmer for 30 minutes
- Add potatoes, cover and simmer for additional 30 minutes
- Uncover and simmer for an additional ten minutes, allowing cooking liquid to reduce slightly.
- Serve family style on a large platter with braising juices drizzled over artichokes