Italian Braised Artichokes

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Artichoke season is here and there's no time like the present to flaunt this family recipe: Italian Braised Artichokes.

My mom only served them for special occasions: Christmas and Easter.  The recipe dates back several generations to 1920s Pennsylvania and probably even further back to Roccapiemonte, Italy, the birthplace of my great grandfather.  Oddly this was my favourite dish growing up as a tiny hungry kid in California.  I'll never forget the first time my grandfather showed me how to eat them.  The leaves are a teaser before arriving to the pot of gold that is the heart. 

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Spiny and prickly, artichokes may look like beasts but can be easily tamed with a bit of love and patience.  The most important part is the prep so read the recipe carefully.

Serves 4

Ingredients:
4 globe or large artichokes
4-6 cloves garlic, sliced finely
2 tsp salt
¼ tsp fresh ground pepper
100 ml extra virgin olive oil

Equipment:
Heavy bottomed pot with lid

Wash the artichokes.  With a sharp chopping knife, cut down the stems until about ½ cm length is remaining.  Around the remaining stem area, pull off the outer sharp jagged leaves (you may need to remove a couple layers’ worth).  Using a sawing motion, carefully cut the artichoke down from the other end to flatten most of the sharp or pointed leaves.  This will range from 1-2 cm.  

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Place the artichoke on a chopping board and pound the flat “face” a few times into the board.  This will allow the leaves to spread outwards from the core, or flower.  Neatly place individual slices of garlic into deep into some of the leaves (like you’re putting something in a pocket). 

Put the artichokes in a pot with the stem end down, face side up.  Fill the pot with cold water until it reaches 1/3 up the length of the artichokes.  Sprinkle the salt and the pepper into the leaves of the artichokes.  Drizzle the olive oil both over the artichokes and into the water.

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Turn on the heat and bring the liquid surrounding the artichokes to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low flame and keep the liquid bubbling very steady and very gently.  Place the lid on top.  Check the liquid level every so often, and top up if necessary.

After about 1 hour, check the level of doneness.  The artichokes should have lost their vibrant colour.  Pull one of the inner leaves away from the artichoke and bite and pull away the tip of the leaf.  It must be soft and smooth.  If still a bit tough, leave to simmer for another 20-30 minutes.  Add extra liquid to the pot if necessary.  

Once done, carefully remove the artichokes with tongs from the pot and place on a platter.  Cover with foil.  Allow to cool at least one hour before eating.  

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To eat and serve: pull each leaf away and bite and pull away the soft "meat" from each tip.  As you travel around and toward the center, the leaves will become more and more tender and may even be wholly edible.  But then you will reach sharp young leaves (the flower) and inedible thistle which must be avoided. Using a steak knife trim away this portion to expose the heart.  Eat this part.  It should be soft and velvety, like an avocado and tastes sweet, salty and garlicky.

Serve with a kickass pinot grigio.

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To store: Wrap in an airtight container, store in the fridge.  Never rewarm them.  Just serve room temp.