My grandmother never taught me how to make her famous stuffed artichokes. I had to rely on over-the-phone oral tradition – a conversation with my favorite aunt – with a little assistance from the internet, to be sure I was following along correctly. I was actually astounded to find that recipes exist for what I assumed was something Josephine made up one night when she had made too much of her sandlike stuffing on hand. In my aunt’s explanation of the process, there were no measurements. My grandmother was a subjective cook. So I slowly added breadcrumbs to fragrant, fruity olive oil until the paste was the consistency of beach sand when it’s wet enough to be molded into a temporary castle.
This dish isn’t one I especially long for. But it has a place of pride on our holiday feast table, alongside antipasto, baked stuffed shells, escarole soup and sliced Italian bread. It is so trite to say that I was “transported to my grandmother’s kitchen, standing over a cauldron of warming olive oil.” But in that instant, stirring spattering garlic with a wooden spoon in one hand, and a baby on my hip, I was every generation of women all at once: great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, myself. Cooking family recipes takes you out of time, casting off your own context and specific set of circumstances.
How will they go over at our holiday gathering this weekend? Hard to say. Did I do it right? Probably not. If Josephine were here to tell the tale, I’m sure she would would proffer numerous corrections and complaints. She would smile, her thousands of whiskered wrinkles clinging to her dentures, and shake her head at me, because in her mind it was so clear, as if I were missing an obvious and universal truth. But it’s a received form, passed down from the old country, or perhaps only as far back as Bridgeport, Connecticut. And I’m muddling through, doing my best, hoping that some things can be retrieved, preserved, and ongoing.
Josephine’s Italian-Style Stuffed Artichokes
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 large garlic cloves, minced
- 2 cups dried breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
- 4 large artichokes
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 425.
In a large pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil and the saute garlic until fragrant. Add breadcrumbs, and toss to coat. Remove from heat, and stir in the Parmesan cheese. Let stand while you prepare artichokes.
To prepare artichokes, use a sharp knife to slice off their stems and remove tops; pull off outer leaves. Use a pair of kitchen shears to snip the pointy ends off the leaves. Place in a baking dish, and stuff with the breadcrumb mixture. Add one inch of boiling water to the dish, and cover it tightly with foil. Bake 45 minutes.