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
Preparing the artichokes
I advise using 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 leave to 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 fit all artichoke heads, 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. Add 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 these instructions. 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 eat 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 can be eaten entirely.