Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve was a big deal in my childhood – and in many ways, much more special than Christmas Day. By 9:00 am on Christmas Day I always felt a little deflated, as if I’d caught just the tail-end of a raucous parade. But Christmas Eve was full of promise and anticipation: the decorated tree awash in delicate multi-colored light, the empty stockings at the fireplace, the plate of cookies waiting for Santa. And then there was the Christmas Eve dinner, a tradition created by my father with a nod to his Sicilian and Italian roots. He spent days in the kitchen preparing a rich tomato sauce with a variety of savory meats and seasonings; special cheeses were purchased from the Italian deli in downtown Cleveland and boxes of lasagna noodles were at the ready. My dad’s lasagna was a many-layered thing of beauty, dotted with fat green olives, thick rounds of sausage, crumbled hard-boiled eggs, creamy ricotta and tangy Parmesan. Cutting into that first pieces was like slicing into a wedding cake. We kids could not wait to dive in with our forks. But before the lasagna came out of the oven (dangerously hot), there were the artichokes. Stuffed to the point of bursting with Italian sausage, bread crumbs and copious amounts of Parmesan cheese (hand-grated by dad), they sat temptingly before us on our plates, leaves begging to be plucked and scraped clean of their bounty. The prize was at the bottom – the succulent heart of the ‘choke. Some of us slowly savored their artichokes and some of us, more impatient, tore through them like twisters roaming across Kansas.
Italian sausage and Parmesan cheese are no longer part of my food vocabulary, but that doesn’t mean the end to the tradition. It just means getting creative. Below is my recipe, lovingly crafted, for Stuffed Artichokes Oliverio. Dad, I love you. Thank you for so many loving, warm and delicious memories.
4 large fresh artichokes, washed, stems cut off and top 1-2″ removed
1 cup boiling water
1 tsp. salt
1 cup TVP
1 cup dry red wine
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
1 tsp. dried rosemary
4 whole cloves
2 tsp. tahini
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. poultry seasoning
1/2 tsp. fennel seeds
2 garlic cloves, finely minced (or use a microplaner)
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs or panko
1 cup of so of vegan Italian sausage, crumbled
1/2-2/3 cup of whole wheat bread crumbs
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp. nutritional yeast
Combine red wine, cloves, garlic (the roughly chopped clove) and rosemary in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 6-10 minutes or until liquid is slightly thickened (I ended up with about a 1/2 cup of liquid). Strain to remove solids and set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, combine the TVP and the one cup boiling water. Stir and let stand for about 10 minutes. Then add the tahini, fennel, poultry seasoning, 1/2 cup bread crumbs, black pepper, minced garlic, cornstarch and strained wine mixture. Mix well.
Cover and put the mixture in the refrigerator for about an hour to firm up. When ready to bake, heat the oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and if desired, form the mixture into 6-8 patties. I simple spread the mixture onto parchment – it was easier than forming patties and for the purposes of this recipe, patties weren’t necessary. Bake for about 20-30 minutes or until the mixture is crispy on top.
Allow to cool so that you can handle the mixture easily. At this point, crumble about 1 cup’s worth of the sausage into a bowl and set aside while you prepare the artichokes.
Wash the artichokes and carefully cut off the top 1″-2″ of the artichokes; cut off the stem close to the base of the artichoke so that they can sit on their bottoms. Gently pull the leaves to allow room between them for stuffing.
Get that bowl of crumbled sausage and have the 1/2-2/3 cup of bread crumbs (plus salt and pepper to taste) in another bowl. With a small spoon, place breadcrumbs down in between the leaves – stuff as many leaves as you can – even the deep, inner leaves, pulling apart as needed. When all of the ‘chokes have been stuffed with the bread crumbs, go back in and divide the sausage among the artichokes, stuffing it in the same leaves into which you’ve put the bread crumbs.
Pour a half inch of vegetable broth and 1 tbsp. tamari into a large pot and turn the heat to medium-high. When the broth is steaming, gently lower the stuffed ‘chokes into the pot, drizzle a little bit of vegetable broth, tamari or Bragg Liquid Aminos over the tops of the ‘chokes and sprinkle with nutritional yeast. Bring to a boil, then cover and turn down the heat to low – just so you have a little bit of a simmer going. Add more broth or water as needed. It can take 1-2 hours to cook artichokes, depending on the size and freshness. Mine took close to a full two hours.
How do you know when they’re done? Gently pull one of the outer leaves. If it comes off easily, the ‘chokes are probably done. Taste the leaf you’ve pulled off – if the “meat” at the end of the leaf is tender – you’re good to go.