We’ve been enjoying large globe artichokes through the summer. It’s difficult to ascertain exactly where these sturdy bulbs are grown – suppliers seem to hide their provenance – however, I suspect they are grown in Spain or France. There is a noticeable artichoke drought for a couple of months at the end of summer until November, when the first Italian artichokes start to appear. These Italian types are smaller varieties, either quite slim and spiky, such as the Tema, or shorter and rounder such as the Romanesco or very small Violetta. These smaller types are in season through to early summer, when the larger globes come back in season.
The Artichokes I found at Kingston market were possibly Romanesco. They were soft-leaved with a small heart and very little choke. This makes them perfect for stuffing and cooking upside-down in a large pot in the Roman style. The River Cafe uses a stuffing of parsley, mint and garlic. Perhaps not surprisingly, most other online sources cite the same ingredients. However, the proportions of stuffing provide only a subtle nuance of herbal and garlic flavour – a reasonable approach, given how the maxim, ‘less is more’ is so often applied to Italian cooking. But I think the stuffing provides an interesting additional element to the dish, so I tend to improvise a generous stuffing made with Parma ham, mortadella, or cooked hams and bread crumbs. However, what should not be tampered with is the method of cooking. Water and oil cook the artichokes, the water both braises and steams, leaving the oil which stews and then fries before forming the basis of a delicious sauce.