Artichokes Au Gratin
Many varieties of artichokes are grown in Italy, and when they are in season we eat them 3-4 times a week in risotto and pasta, or prepared whole and stuffed, baked or steamed. But when the small tender artichokes are in season here in Sicily, this simple & delicious dish is my favorite.
Preheat the oven to 400° F (200° C). Line a shallow baking pan or cookie sheet with oven parchment paper, making sure that the paper also covers the inside edges of the pan. (This keeps the artichokes from sticking to the pan and also makes clean-up a breeze.)
In a small bowl, mix the bread crumbs, parmigiano and chopped parsley, along with a few grindings of fresh black pepper and a ¼ tsp of salt or to taste. Set aside.
Snap off and discard all the tough outer leaves of the artichoke, then cut across the top to remove the ends of the leaves and all the spikes. Trim the tough fibrous part of the stems and bottom. The artichokes will now be quite small, - about 2 inches in diameter - and the inner leaves will be a pale yellow green color. (Note: Do not try and make this dish with large artichokes! You must use a small tender artichoke in which the “choke” or “beard” (barba) is very soft and undeveloped.)
Slice the artichokes lengthwise, about ¼” thick, and lay them flat in one layer on the paper-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture evenly over the artichokes to cover them.
Pour a bit of the water into your clean hand and sprinkle over the surface of the bread crumbs. Wet all the bread crumbs, but do not soak them (and don’t try adding the water to the breadcrumb mixture in advance as it will turn to paste.)
Drizzle the extra-virgin olive oil over the surface of the wet breadcrumb-covered artichokes.
Bake at 400°F (200°C) for about 20 minutes, or until the breadcrumb mixture is brown and crisp and the artichokes are tender when pierced with a fork. (To make sure the topping is crisp, place in the upper third of the oven for the last 5 minutes, or run under the broiler for a minute or two.)
If you do not intend to just devour the entire pan of these for lunch (as I have been known to do) then these artichokes make an excellent side dish to baked or grilled fish, or to pork roast. Drink an aromatic white wine, such as Lighea, from the Donnafugata winery in western Sicily. Buon appetito!