Artichokes have always been a part of my life. A food memory from my childhood, they are a symbol of summer, or at least sunny days and warmer weather. When I was young, my mom would make stuffed artichokes once the sun began to shine daily, and then regularly throughout most of the summer. We ate them a lot yet never tired of them. One stuffed artichoke was a filling meal for a kid, and even an adult. No one talked as we ate. Our heads down, we scraped leaf after leaf against our teeth to get the perfect artichoke "meat" and stuffing combination. In a how-many-licks-to-the-center kind of way, I would make my way through the leaves quickly. My main goal was to get to the heart, my favorite part. Although I prepare them in various ways throughout the season, steaming them and maybe adding an olive oil & vinegar dressing is my favorite, they are still a regular part of my spring/summer table.
This year's artichoke binge, however, started in March with my trip to Italy. Artichokes were in season throughout most of country, and I saw them everywhere. They were displayed in tall stacks at outdoor markets. Vendors would sit at their stalls turning one artichoke after another, leaving a trail of the discarded leaves on the ground, paring the leaves away to get to the heart. They tossed these little round disks into buckets of acidulated water. Each heart, (il fondo in Italian) bobbed up and down in the water waiting to be taken home and eaten.
During my trip, I also found artichokes on many menus and in a variety of dishes, eating them every chance I could. I ate them in pasta dishes, on top of pizza al taglio in Rome and on pizza in Napoli. I ate just the hearts, marinated and served as cicchetti in Venice, or hearts creamed with just a bit of olive oil and slathered over crostini. They were part of the layers of vegetables in the Salento dish, Verdure al Forno. I also had them in Rome alla giudea (fried) and alla Romana (braised in a dressing of lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, wild mint and garlic).
Artichoke and Potato Puree Dish from Cibreo
All versions were delicious, but the most dramatic dish was one at Ristorante Cibreo in Florence. Laura and I ate an amazing dinner there. This dish was one that she had ordered. Luckily she was nice enough to share more than a few bites with me. The artichoke was steamed and then lightly sauteed. It sat, turned upside down, on a plate of pureed potatoes. The yellow color of the potatoes gave you an idea of the amount of butter in the puree, possibly equal to the amount of potato on the dish. With a tableside presentation, the waiter sat the dish in front of Laura and easily sliced the artichoke in half, revealing a bright orange egg yolk in the center of the overturned artichoke. The yolk added to the already creamy texture and decadence of the dish.
Eventually, I hope to recreate all these dishes I tasted during my trip. With this dish, instead of making pasta with a sauce of artichokes, I've put artichokes in the pasta. It's been my go-to ravioli filling in May. I first made it for a dinner party where the client wanted ravioli. It was a hit. I wanted to make one alteration, namely add more artichokes, tweeked the recipe, and made it for another. Again, a hit.
Finally, I made some for home, and here for you. These are in a half-moon, or agnolotti, shape. You can also make them in a square or round shape. Since it's all about the filling for me, I think the half-moon shape gives you get a better ratio of filling-to-pasta. I served them in a simple brown butter sauce and topped them with chards of Parmigiano cheese, freshly-grated black pepper and a few bits of thyme.
Artichoke and Spinach Ravioli
(makes about 60 ravioli)
For the pasta:
2 1/4 cups (300 grams) all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
For the filling:
5-6 medium-sized artichokes
20 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and drained of all water
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground pepper, plus more to taste
1-2 egg whites for assembling the ravioli
For the sauce:
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter
A few sprigs of thyme
Chards or grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese for garnish
Freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
Remove the tough outer leaves of the artichokes. Steam them over simmering water for about 50 minutes, until tender. Slice the artichokes in half and remove the choke. Set aside to cool completely.
To make the pasta: Sift the flour onto a wooden working board and make a well. Break the eggs and place them in the center of the well. Using a fork beat the eggs until the yolks break and the whites and yolks are combined. Then, slowly bring in flour from the edges until there is enough flour in the center to prevent the eggs from running. Using your hands combine enough flour so that the dough is no longer sticky. Remove any excess flour from the board and knead until all the flour and egg are evenly combined and the dough is soft and smooth, about 5 minutes. Cover in plastic wrap and then a dry towel and let rest for 30 minutes.
To make the filling: Chop the artichokes into bite-size pieces, about 1/2-inch chunks, and place into a mixing bowl. Add the drained spinach (make sure all the water has been removed from the spinach), the ricotta, grated Parmigiano cheese, the egg, and salt and pepper. Stir together to combine. Adjust seasoning if necessary.
To assemble the ravioli: Roll out the dough by hand or use a pasta machine. Roll the dough out fairly thin. (Note: Each machine varies, but I rolled it to #7 on my machine.) For the half-moon agnolotti shape, use a round 3-inch in diameter cookie cutter and cut out round pasta disks. With a pastry brush, brush a little of the egg white onto the border of each pasta disk. Place about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the filling into the center of each disk. Fold over to make a half-moon shape and seal the edge with a fork. Continue this process until you have used all the pasta dough and filling. (These freeze well, so you can make extra for the future).
Bring a pot of 6-8 cups of water to a rolling boil. Add a generous amount of salt and let the water come back to a rolling boil. Add the ravioli and cook until they are al dente, about 6 minutes if they are fresh (longer if they are frozen). While the ravioli are cooking heat the butter over medium high heat until it browns. I used a stick of butter (1/2 cup) for every 15 ravioli. Once the ravioli are cooked, strain off the excess pasta water and add them to the sauce. Toss and serve with a few bits of thyme, Parmigiano cheese (chards or grated) and the black pepper. Four to five ravioli make a nice primo piatto (first pasta course). Eight ravioli will make a filling main course. Buon Appetito!
What is your favorite artichoke dish?
This post is part of Wanderfood Wednesdays, a group of traveling foodies who blog. Head on over there and check out what other food lovers are eating.