Every spring, two plants dominate the tables on Dalmatian coast: artichokes and wild asparagus. On the coast, the wild asparagus grows on fields with high grass and bushes and its skinny spears can be difficult to find if you don’t know where to look for. My grandmother used to spends an entire afternoon 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 upon her arrival. Once you try the wild asparagus you will always eat the cultivated sort with nostalgia, as if something is missing. It lacks caracter, that bittersweet intense flavour so characteristic for the wild species growing on dry Dalmatian land. We cook them in salted water and serve with hard boiled eggs, drizzled with olive oil and vinegar.
Artichokes come around at the same time and have their own special story. On the Adriatic islands, they are mostly self seeding plants. These beautiful, somewhat intimidating plant is divinely delicious and in my family we’ve been preparing it 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. Fava beans are one of the regional vegetables that is a delightfull pair to the artichokes.
A couple of days ago I was looking for violet artichokes at the market, the ones we used to get from our family from the island every spring. I’ve found them at the local marché, their heads small and firm and 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 bringing 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
fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
bread for dipping
Preparing the artichokes
I advise you to use violet artichokes, small to medium size.
Cut the flower buds from the stem. You can optionally also use the stem; peel it and put in the pot together with the artichoke buds, as they are also edible and have a similar taste to 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. Leave them in the water bath for 20-30 minutes to release the dirt or small bugs that could be hidden inside. Rinse them well and dry.
Cooking the artichokes with fava beans
Place the fava beans and green peas in a medium size pot together with olive oil. Make sure the pot is big enough to be able to place all the artichokes, but not too big so there is too much place in between them.
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 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. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Be sure to turn the artichokes during cooking if they flip over to ensure they cook evenly. It will take approximately one hour to cook.
Instructions for eating
Please follow the instructions because I have seen many an artichokes wasted because of the ignorance concerning their consummation.
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 take the soft part of the leaf. You will notice that as you are peeling the leaves towards the middle of the artichoke, they become smaller and whiter and can almost be eaten completely.
The best part is the heart and the inner most leaves which can be eaten entirely.