Italians call the large (4-inch diameter) round artichokes that work best for stuffing mamme because they frequently have baby artichokes attached to their stems. Figure one to two mamme, or three to four smaller artichokes per person, as a main course.
- The ingredients of the filling you select (see below)
Wash your artichokes well, remove the tough outer leaves until you reach the lighter colored tender inner leaves, and then cut the stem off flush (reserve it), so the artichoke will stand up.
Using a knife, cut the point of the artichoke off flat at the height of the tips of the outermost leaves (this does away with the spiny tips of the leaves), then core it, removing the innermost leaves (just the innermost leaves above the heart) and any fuzz there may be in the center of the artichoke heart.
Set aside the leaves removed, but discard the fuzz. Next, spread the remaining leaves of the artichoke a bit with your fingers, and set your cored artichoke and the reserved leaves to soak in a bowl of water with the juice of a lemon squeezed into it to keep it from darkening.
Continue with the next artichoke; when you've finished coring the artichokes, take the stems; if you look at a freshly cut surface you will see that the heart is lighter, and surrounded by a ring of darker green. Trim away the green outer parts, which are bitter. Julienne the white inner stems and add them to the reserved leaves and heart.
Fillings vary considerably from cook to cook. Here are three varieties.
- For four medium sized artichokes, take the stems and inner leaves, and add to them two ounces (50 g) julienned pancetta, two ounces (50 g) grated Fontina cheese, a quarter pound (100 g) ground beef, and a bunch of minced parsley. Season the mixture to taste with salt and pepper (because of the pancetta, not much salt should be necessary), then knead a beaten egg into it.
- Take the reserved tender inner leaves, two of the stems, peeled and julienned, 2 ounces (50 g) prosciutto, 1/4 of a small onion, a piece of garlic the size of your fingernail, a few leaves of celery and parsley, a few previously soaked dried porcini, and a handful (1/2 cup) of day old bread. Thoroughly moisten the bread in milk, wring it out, and crumble it as finely as possible. Mince the remaining ingredients, mix them thoroughly with the bread, and season the stuffing to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. This stuffing will be enough to stuff six artichokes.
- Another meat stuffing. To stuff six artichokes, take the tender inner leaves, 1/4 pound (100 g) veal, 1 ounce (30 g) prosciutto, 1/4 of a small onion, a small bunch of parsley, a few previously soaked dried porcini, about a half a cup Italian or French day old bread, a teaspoon or two of grated Parmigiano cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Soak the bread in milk, wring it out, and crumble it as finely as possible. Mince the remaining ingredients, mix them thoroughly with the bread, and stuff the artichokes.
When you stuff the artichokes, spread the leaves like the petals of a flower and gently press the stuffing between them as well as into the central cavity.
Italians often cook stuffed artichokes in a pressure cooker. Put a quarter cup of olive oil to heat in the pressure cooker and add the artichokes, being careful that they stand upright. Let them cook for a couple of minutes, then add about an inch of boiling water or broth, put the lid on the pressure cooker, and cook under pressure for twenty minutes. Turn off the flame and open the safety valve.
When it's safe, open the pressure cooker and continue cooking, shifting them about often lest they stick and burn, until the remaining liquid has evaporated; serve.
If you wish to use the Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot instead, pour about a quarter cup of olive oil into it and heat it over the stove, then add the artichokes, being careful that they stand upright. After letting them color for a couple of minutes, pour in enough boiling water or broth to reach halfway up the sides of the artichokes and cover the pot tightly, reducing the heat to a slow simmer.
Simmer for a half hour or so, adding water as necessary to keep the artichokes from drying out and burning. Then uncover the pot and simmer until the water is evaporated, shifting the artichokes about occasionally to keep them from sticking and burning; serve.
A wine? I find that artichokes clash with red wines, and therefore prefer to drink whites with them. Since these are substantial dishes, I might go with a Vernaccia di San Gimignano.