Every spring, two plants dominate the tables of Dalmatian coast: artichokes and wild asparagus. On the coast, the wild asparagus grows in fields with high grass and bushes and its skinny spears can be difficult to find if you don’t know where to look. When I was a child, my grandmother used to spend entire afternoons foraging asparagus. It was kind of an event of the day, foraging fields and paths from one part of the island to the other while we would wait impatiently, ready to cook them as soon as she’s back.
Once you try the wild asparagus you will always eat the cultivated ones with a sort of nostalgia, or at least I do. The cultivated asparagus lacks character, that bittersweet intense flavour so characteristic for the wild species growing on dry Dalmatian land. We cook them until soft, in lightly salted water and serve with hard boiled eggs and a drizzle of olive oil and vinegar.
Artichokes come around at the same time as asparagus and have their own special story. On the Adriatic islands, they are mostly self seeding plants. These beautiful, somewhat intimidating plants are divinely delicious. In my family we’ve been preparing them in a traditional way long since I can remember. A simple recipe of the old, where a couple of produce from the nearby field was enough to make a feast for the senses. Cooked until soft with parsely, breadcrumbs, peas and fava beans, a regional vegetable that is a delightfull pair to the artichokes.
A couple of days ago I found violet artichokes at the market, the variety I know well. Their small deeply coloured heads were ready to be reinvented in the old Dalmatian recipe here in my French home. I served them to friends, with slices of fresh bread to dip in the thick, almost sweet sauce which brings back so many memories.
Dalmatian artichokes with fava beans : the emblem of spring
6 medium artichokes
200 g fresh fava beans
200 g green peas
50 g bread crumbs
bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
bread for dipping
I suggest using violet artichokes, small to medium size.
Cut the flower buds from the stem. You can optionally also use the stem; peel it and place in the pot together with the buds, as they are edible and have a similar taste as the artichoke heart. If the flower buds have pointy thorns, cut them off with scissors.
Take the artichokes and gently pull the “leaves” from the centre so that they open but don’t break. Place them in a bowl of water in which you’ve put a bit of vinegar and leave to soak for 20-30 minutes. This will remove the dirt or small bugs that could be hidden inside of the bud. Rinse the buds well and leave to dry.
Cooking artichokes with fava beans
In a bowl, mix the bread crumbs with chopped parsley, salt and pepper.
Take one artichoke at the time, gently open the leaves and fill the cavities with prepared breadcrumb mixture. You don’t have to put the mixture between every leaf but make sure each artichoke head has enough filling.
Place fava beans and green peas in a medium sized pot together with a tablespoon of olive oil. Make sure the pot is big enough to fit all artichoke heads, but not too big that there is too much place in between them.
Place the stuffed artichokes in the casserole on top of the beans, heads up. Add water to the pot to almost cover the artichokes. Cook until the fava beans are cooked thoroughly and the sauce has thickened, around an hour. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Turn the artichokes during cooking if the artichokes flip over during cooking be sure to turn them so they cook evenly.
Instructions for eating
I have seen many artichokes wasted because of the ignorance concerning their consummation, so here are some explanations.
If you use violet artichokes, the outer leaves are too hard to be eaten completely. However, they have a fleshy inner surface which is soft and sweet. Take the outer leaves one by one with both hands and pull with your teeth over the inner surface of the leaf to get the soft part. You will notice that, as you are peeling the leaves towards the middle of the artichoke, they become smaller and whiter and can be eaten completely. The sweetest part is the heart and the inner most leaves which are eaten entirely, given that you’ve cut the pointy ends before cooking.