Am I allowed to say “bottoms” or will I be censored?! I had to say it because the hearts didn´t really make it into this dish.
Big Man came home the other day with about a dozen artichokes that a pal had given him. Unfortunately they had been sitting in his truck, with daytime temperatures reaching 34 degrees Celsius for two days. They were rather sad and dry looking.
I peeled away all the leaves and took out the “choke”, the hairy bit in the middle and then cooked them in water (with a good few spoonfuls of white wine vinegar to stop them going black) until they were almost tender.
I was just going to use them in a salad, but then decided that as they´d had a miserable few days in the heat, I would give them a more dramatic exit!
For the stuffing I used (for 12 artichokes)
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
6 medium mushrooms and stalks, finely chopped and fried in olive oil with the garlic until soft
3 heaped tablespoons of cream cheese
3 level tablespoons of grated cheese (I used a mature goat´s cheese)
Some finely chopped parsley
I mixed all these ingredients together, seasoned with salt and pepper and then spooned the mixture onto the artichoke bottoms which I then placed in a lightly oiled baking dish.
I sprinkled them all with fresh white breadcrumbs and finished with a drizzle of olive oil.
These then went into a hot oven for about 15 minutes (until the breadcrumbs were browned) and I served them with my Spicy Tomato Sauce. I think they were happy with their finale.
It´s the end of May and we only got round to planting out all those little plant plugs on 21st May, shame on us. We´re usually at least a few weeks earlier, but never mind. The weather seems to be turning to summer, and I took a little look around this morning to see how things were doing. Five days on, and I couldn´t believe my eyes. Fortunately things catch up quickly here and I know, at least if the weather stays fine, we´ll be eating most of what we´re growing now into November.
The runner beans seem to be growing a few cm each day. Luckily we have plenty of canes for them. We had to put down some slug pellets, not really in keeping with our organic aims, but there seems to be a plague of slugs and snails this year.
The broad beans are still in full production, the freezer is also well stocked for when they do die off in a few weeks.
We´re very excited about our potatoes as we´ve never grown them before. Big Man was reluctant as they do take up a fair amount of space. However, they´re drying out now and will be ready to dig up soon, then once we´ve dug over the soil and given it whatever (organic) feed it needs, we´re going to put other things in. I have seeds for dwarf runner beans (including some very funky yellow ones, which I´m quite excited about). We´ll definitely put some radishes in as they grow so quickly, and then some lettuces as choices here in the shops locally are mainly limited to lettuce hearts or iceberg.
Last year a neighbour gave us some little cucumber plants which he had grown from seeds of his previous year´s crop. They went crazy and we had loads of delicious little cucumbers all summer long. We took his advice and saved the seeds from one cucumber which we let grow fat and sad looking. We planted them 5 days ago, and despite Big Man being convinced that nothing would come of them, this morning we found lots of little sprouts…we´re so proud!
Our artichokes continue to flourish, but we will put some new plants in this year as the current ones are now three years old and getting tired.
Our tomatoes, peppers and aubergines have taken root well.
Big Man hates aubergines (or eggplants) with a passion. I, on the other hand, adore them. Sometimes I sneak them into dishes without telling him and he cant always tell. I love Melanzane Alla Parmigiana, and make this as a treat all to myself so we have planted a little row of them to keep me happy.
And our lovely little lemon tree seems to have found its pace and keeps us supplied with juicy fruit for squeezing over grilled meats, making dressings and slicing into our “sun downers”.
And just to prove that it´s not all about veggies, here´s a gratuitous shot of one of our roses…
Once you´ve planted a couple of artichoke plants, they seem to last for a couple of years. As long as you keep cutting the “fruit”, more keep on growing. A couple of weeks ago we cut more than we needed, so stop them from getting too big and tough and a peeled off the outer leaves to reveal the hearts, blanched them in water with lemon juice to stop them turning black and then froze what we didn´t use.
As we now have more artichokes blooming, I thought I should use up the batch from the freezer (although a tin of artichoke hearts would do just as well). I also had some chicken breasts which would go well with the artichokes in a lovely dish with a thick sauce. Neither Big Man nor I are huge fans of the chicken breast, but when you rear your own chickens for eating, you´re always going to have them!
Ingredients for this dish for two are
One large or two small chicken breasts, cut into small cubes
A tin of artichoke hearts or about 8 fresh ones (prepared as above), sliced into quarters
Half a dozen medium sized mushrooms, thickly sliced
Two fat cloves of garlic, thickly sliced
Two cloves, ground (or about a quarter of a teaspoon of ground cloves) with about 5 peppercorns (or use half a dozen twists of freshly ground black pepper)
Half a teaspoon of paprika
A pinch of saffron soaked in a tablespoon of water (if you have a packet of paella spices, you can use half a packet in place of the cloves, pepper, paprika and saffron)
Two thick slices of day old bread, crumbled roughly
A bay leaf
A sprig of thyme (optional)
A glass of white wine (optional) plus one for drinking while cooking (not optional in my kitchen)
Start by lightly browning the chicken in a little olive oil in a deep frying pan or a wide saucepan. Then add the garlic, artichokes and mushrooms and fry gently until the mushrooms and artichokes start to brown.
Add the spices and herbs and season with a little salt. Pour over the wine and enough water to comfortably cover everything and simmer, without a lid, for about 15 minutes.
When the liquid has reduced by about half, but is still watery, remove the herbs and then add the bread crumbs, stirring as you do this. You will simmer this for another 5 minutes stirring a couple of times. The sauce will come together and will look smoother, with some texture from the bread after a couple of minutes. You want to end up with a sauce roughly the texture of a thick gravy. If it looks too runny near the end of cooking, add another half a slice of bread. If it´s too liquid, just simmer until it gets to the consistency you want – it´s down to you! Check and adjust the seasoning, and you´re ready.
This can be prepared ahead and reheated, and takes about 40 minutes to prepare from scratch.
Delicious served either as a “spoon dish” (as they call dishes the consistency of stew which are served in bowls and eaten, as expected, with a spoon) if you prefer the sauce more liquid with bread and a side salad or with some green beans, mashed potato or rice.
So in 2016 I turned 50. I was in Italy for my 21st, 30th and 40th. To keep this birthday tradition going I always knew I'd be in Italy for my 50! This blog starts with my 5 week adventure in Puglia but my love affair with Italy continues.....