Mediterranean in Little Italy: A Bouquet of Spring Artichokes in Tuscany
Chef Olivia Hayo of Beautiful Food Inside + Out re-creates her culinary memories of the Mediterranean using inspiration, and local, seasonal ingredients, from her home in San Diego's Little Italy. This week, she brings home beautiful baby artichokes reminiscent of the ones she cooked with in Tuscany.
My heart raced with each hairpin turn through the Tuscan countryside as we wound our way from one hilltop town to the next. Every twist revealed views of velvet-green rolling landscape etched with Cyprus tree spires and looming towers.
By midday we had reached San Gimignano, and found that its rough stone exteriors were softened with happy travelers and locals alike gathered around cafe tables.
We grabbed a table, which was soon crowded with slick black olives, smoky marinated artichoke hearts, leeks, and crusty bread. Under the Tuscan sky, with wine in hand, we made our best of impression of living like an Italian.
The cool wine and salty snacks were the perfect apertivo to get us thinking about dinner. I decided we should head back to the agriturismo where we were staying just outside of Volterra, where we had been spending the long spring days exploring the area’s natural hot springs, markets, and farm stands.
I would prepare something. The day before our hostess had gifted us with a canteen of their family’s extra-virgin olive oil and offered us use of any of the property’s gardens during our stay; an offer I was eager to take her up on.
On the edges of the property hedges of artichoke plants sat ready for harvesting. With a serrated knife I grabbed from the kitchen, I cut off a half-dozen purple artichokes and set them on the picnic table.
Then I got to work with a paring knife, trimming away the tough leaves and woody stems before dropping them into a bowl of lemon-laced water to prevent browning.
We moved into the kitchen where I tipped the artichokes into a large pot to steep with garlic, herbs, and wine. When I could easily pluck a leaf from one of the hearts I knew they were ready, and with a few glugs of olive oil and some crusty bread, our meal was served.
Last weekend at the farmers market, I came across beautiful baby artichokes.
The farmer at the stand explained that they didn’t need to be trimmed like their larger counterparts. Instead just the tips and a few outer leaves needed to be removed.
I took home a few baskets along with a bouquet of dill blossoms to reimagin the artichoke dish from the Tuscan countryside.
The result was a dish of tender artichokes steeped with aromatic dill and briny capers topped with garlicky almond breadcrumbs and herbaceous dill blossoms. It rekindled our desire to live like Italians, whether in Tuscany or Little Italy.