-Have you got them?
-Not yet, but I spoke to my guy – by the time you get here, they will be in my bag
-How can you be so sure? It is not the first time he lets me down
-He said he will have them, just be patient and enjoy your flight
-does he still work at the old market? I can go pay him a visit on my way home
-it won’t be necessary, I told him they are for you and you are going to stay only a couple of days. Now enjoy your flight and I will see you later
-I hope he doesn’t make up a lame excuse like he did 4 years ago – not that I am still crossed about that, after 4 years!
-he got his truck stolen, there is a police report! Now I have to go, see you later
This might sound like an extract from an episode of “Narcos”, but it is the conversation I usually have with my mum every time I am going back to Italy. The “guy” is Giuseppe, he has a stall in the old market where he sells fruits and vegetables. I like him, he is super friendly and chatty, and he always makes sure that those 2 or 3 times a year I go to visit my family in Italy he can feed my obsession: artichokes.
I love artichokes. I love the flavour, the texture, the colour, literally everything about them.
Now, picture this: first week in the UK, I go grocery shopping. I am quite pleased to find most of the common brands we use in Italy, from pasta to chocolate. Fruits and vegetables seem alright, I can actually find some products I never tried before, life is good.
Strangely enough, I don’t see artichokes. Naively, I just think that maybe they are not in season at the moment, and I move on with my life.
As the months go by, I see all sorts of produce on the shelves, but still no trace of artichokes. I decide to visit different stores, but no sign of my green gold. Time for my friend Mr Google, which I am sure will help me in my research. But what Mr Google returned was a blog post, written by an Italian in the UK, explaining that inexplicably he never found artichokes in the UK.
Year after year, I gave up looking for them in here, but I always made sure that in Italy I would eat ALL the artichokes – and Giuseppe helped me in my mission.
January 2021, UK: An unimpressed with life parmigianawhisperer walks the veggies aisle in the usual grocery shop – but something is different. Let’s have a look; onions are there, tomatoes are there, oh yes I see – they moved the broccoli on the right corner. I wonder what has taken their place, but if there is something I learnt over the 33 years on this unforgiving world, is that hope is the first step towards disappointment, so I just keep walking around the aisle to get my shopping. But, as Ulysses in the sirens, the left aisle calls my name, and I can only follow those irresistible chants, my heart racing and my mind already wandering in a field of artichokes, all singing “eat me, I am delicious”. I just give a quick peek, and here they are. My beauties. My precious.
On the way home, a video call with the family is needed – an event of such importance has to be shared in all its greatness, so the call starts with my bouquet of artichokes covering my face, and me behind shouting “LIFE IS SWEEEEET”. After realising that I never cooked them before for obvious reasons, the video call continued in my kitchen, where the camera was pointed towards the artichokes and my unexperienced hands – trying to peel and cut them properly in order to not waste my tresure.
I love artichokes. I love them, no matter how they are cooked, but I feel that the best way to enjoy them is a tortiera, a sort of gratin very popular in Sicily and the South of Italy. There are several ways to make a tortiera, but my favourite is the simplest version: oil, garlic, parsley, breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese. Some families prefer to add a lay of mozzarella and ham between the artichokes, some others like to add eggs, but for me the best tortiera is minimal, to enjoy the nutty and bitter taste of the artichokes.
So here is my family recipe for 4 servings:
-olive oil, 6 tablespoons
-parsley, 8 leaves
-garlic clove, 1
-parmesan cheese, 6 tablespoons
To prepare before cooking:
-half a lemon
1.Squeeze the half lemon in a bowl, and add enough water to fill half the bowl
2. Peel well the artichokes and cut them in 1/4
3.Put the artichokes in the bowl for 20 minutes
4.Fill a pan with salted water and bring it to boil
5.Rinse well the artichokes, and put them in the boiling water
6.Let it cook for 30 minutes or more, pierce the artichokes with a fork and if they are tender they are done
7.Place the artichokes in a colander and let them drain until cool
8.In the meantime, mix together the breadcrumbs, olive oil, chopped parsley, chopped garlic and 2 tablespoons of parmesan
9.Squeeze the artichokes with your hands
10. Grease a pan with oil, take half of the breadcrumbs and spread them on the pan
11. take half of the artichokes and spread them evenly over the layer of breadcrumbs
12. Spread the remaining 4 tablespoons of grated parmesan on the artichokes
13.Take the rest of the artichokes and form another layer
14.Spread the other half of the breadcrumbs evenly on top of the artichokes
15.Cook it at slow temperature for 6/7 minutes, then using a plate turn it on the other side and let it cook for 6/7 minutes; repeat the operation (for less minutes) until golden