This winter has been exceptionally long and cold, but sparks of spring are starting to sprinkle through the air. Flowers bloom and market stands become crowded with heaps and heaps of big, beautiful artichokes. Although an artichoke’s consistency is fibrous and tough on the outside, the beauty of this flower is its seemingly impenetrable layers that hide a soft, sweet heart.
Artichoke season started in mid-autumn this year (it depends on when Easter falls) and continues until mid-spring. The first artichokes you saw in the market were green and the surface of their leaves likely appeared a bit cloudy. After this first batch of artichokes, the market fills with another variety, the spinier artichokes that typically come from Sicily and Sardinia. Delicious and full of taste, these are the artichokes to buy at your local market.
This seasonal bounty is not only a sign of the changing seasons but also a peek at what awaits: nicer, warmer weather and even tastier foods! Right now, you’ll find the varieties of artichokes that are commonly called violetti and morelli in Italian. These are the most versatile artichokes: they can be eaten raw or cooked, deep fried, braised or minced for a delicious flan. Flans are soft enough to be sliced and the slices are perfect over a plate of tagliatelle. Violetti and morelli artichokes are the best suited to make the artichoke flan in the recipe on this page.
Some of the best foods to serve with artichokes are walnuts, pine nuts and mushrooms; you can also use the nuts to sprinkle over a pasta dish.
1 artichoke per person
1 egg every 2 artichokes
dried porcino mushrooms
some parmesan cheese, grated
olive oil, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper
butter, flour, milk (for the bbchamel sauce)
some fresh Pecorino cheese, grated
some fresh cow milk cheese, grated
Clean the artichokes by taking off the hard, external leaves and cutting off the points. Keep them in water and lemon juice to prevent them from getting dark. Then soak a few dried porcino mushrooms in warm water. Chop the mushrooms, garlic and parsley and sautt these with the artichokes in olive oil. Once they are done, turn off the heat and drain them of the excessive olive oil. Then pass everything through a meat grinder until you get a purre. Mix the artichoke purre with Parmesan cheese and the egg yolks. Beat the egg whites until they are stiff and add them to the artichoke purre. Pour the purre into single moulds; the moulds should be three-quarters full. Bake the moulds at medium heat (or approximately 180 degrees) in a baking pan full of water.
To make the bbchamel sauce: melt some butter and add half of the wheat flour; then stir. Add hot milk (10 parts) and whisk until the sauce starts to boil. Add salt and pepper. Add the two kinds of freshly grated pecorino and cow milk cheeses. Cook a few minutes while stirring.
Remove the artichoke flans from the baking moulds. Spread some of the bbchamel and cheese sauce on each plate and place the flans on top.
Serve the artichoke flan with walnut bread.