This is a brilliant starter. Two things occurred to me during this dish. First, I felt like I was at a fine restaurant being served something distinctly special. Second, anybody can make this – providing you have the right ingredients. I was researching a seasonal-themed article at Spa Terminus and found wonderful examples of Italian seasonal veg from Natoora, including two types of young and fresh spiny artichokes. I decided to make them three ways: raw in a salad, stuffed and baked in the oven and deep-fried.
Preheat the oven to 180C, Gas 4.
Prepare the larger artichokes: Cut off about 20cm of stalk and one-quarter of the height of the leaves from the top of the artichoke. Peel off about three layers of outer leaves, then with a sharp paring knife peel the base of the artichoke smooth and peel the outer fibrous layer from the stalk. Cut off about 10cm of peeled stalk and reserve. Cut the whole artichoke in half lengthwise and using the paring knife cut out the choke and any spiny inner leaves. Cover the whole surface with lemon juice and repeat with the other artichoke.
Prepare the stuffing: Put the slice of bread in a blender and blitz to crumbs. Chop the Parma ham, 2 reserved artichoke stalks (well peeled), celery heart, chives, thyme and parsley. Mix everything in a large bowl and add the zest of lemon, squeeze from the half of lemon, 1 tbs olive oil and 60 ml stock. Season with salt and pepper. Using a dessert spoon scoop the stuffing into the cavities of the artichokes. Press and push the stuffing into the cavity. Put any spare stuffing onto a sheet of tin foil – add a splash of stock and wine and seal.
Bake the artichokes: place the artichokes in a baking dish (along with any spare stuffing in tin foil parcel), add a splash of wine and olive oil over the artichokes. Put 125 ml of stock in the pan and seal tightly with tin foil. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until tender. Take off the foil for the last 5 minutes and turn the heat up to give the artichokes some colour.
Prepare the small artichokes: Follow the method described above for the smaller artichokes. If the choke is tender it will not need to be removed.
For the fried artichoke: Cut one of the smaller artichokes and its spare stalk into 5mm slices. Put in a bowl and squeeze lemon juice over. Heat a small pan of vegetable oil to 160C. When ready to serve coat the artichoke pieces in flour and deep-fry until tender and drain on kitchen paper. NB: You could also dip the pieces in beaten egg after dredging in flour and before deep-frying.
For the raw artichoke: Time 10 minutes before serving. Cut the choke (and its spare stalk) very thinly, using a sharp stainless steel knife. Put into a bowl with a good squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of salt.
Make the salad: Rinse the rocket and spin dry. Mix with the raw artichoke and add a little olive oil as dressing. Season with pepper.
Assemble the dish: Add a pile of salad on each plate and top with Parmesan shavings. Place a baked artichoke half alongside and place the fried artichoke in a third pile. Serve with lemon.