Foodstuff: Grandma T’s party-ready fried artichoke hearts
I grew up with a Sicilian grandmother, Antonina Capasso, affectionately known as Toni or “T,” a lady so at home in front of the stove that she self-published hundreds of copies of a cookbook in the early 1980’s, titled “You take a little oil and fry onions… Recipes from a Sicilian Kitchen.” All the rage, it sold out completely in grocery stores, specialty food stores and bookstores around my hometown of St. Louis, Mo. Nearly 40 years after its release, people still request it. I recently had a complete stranger from the East Coast find me on social media, then reach out to me on Instagram to see if I had a copy she could buy for her cookbook club.
Parties were near constant in my large extended family, and the food was always the main attraction; the kitchen was where we gathered to laugh, yell and nibble. Grandma T churned out ravioli and chicken scaloppini and stuffed artichokes and struffoli as though she were a machine— incredible food crammed every inch of the table, all created by a woman with daughters and grandchildren as sous-chefs and no dishwasher besides the hands of this cadre of home cooks.
So ever since I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with food and cooking.
To wit: have you ever had the person you’re dating admiringly comment on your epicurean endeavors?
I once had a well-intentioned ski bum-type swoon, “You were on my mind the other day and I thought to myself, ‘That Katherine can really put away some food.’”
I hope the brief mention of this compliment (can I call it that?) helps to put a fine point on my life as an enthusiastic eater. The dude didn’t last, but my appetite did.
I read cookbooks like novels, obsessively research restaurants online and relish my Saturday mornings watching cooking shows on television. Before there was The Food Network, my mother and I tuned into PBS every Saturday at 10:30 a.m. on the dot. I lived for Jacques and Julia serving up edible content long before Giada and Guy; I watched every minute of every meal served with rapt attention.
My interest blossomed around first grade (when my culinary prowess was limited to boxed macaroni and cheese). It extended through fifth grade, high school, young adulthood (still making that boxed mac and cheese) and to this day, I could spend hours happily ensconced in the kitchen, much to the chagrin of my friends and an overly energetic terrier who requires me to get out the door bright and early to take advantage of our beautiful valley.
If you want to find me, there’s a good chance I’m sipping sparkling rosé at one of the tables around town (corner bar seat preferred). Though I’m also just as likely to be eating a fried mozzarella stick while hunched over my coffee table (and if I’m being honest, I’d probably eat a breaded and deep-fried shoe).
So, for my inaugural food column for The Aspen Times Weekly, it’s only fitting that I share a simple recipe from T’s cookbook that graced every table at every gathering at her house throughout my life. It’s also the dish I’m often responsible for at Christmas (my friends love it when I bring a platter for parties, too): fried artichoke hearts.
I have presented the recipe below as written in T’s book, but my “COOK’S NOTE” suggested tips are what I’ve learned after years of making the dish myself in my own kitchen. At the time these recipes were written, some ingredients or techniques may not have been widely available, so I made sure to include a recipe with ingredients that are appropriate for modern cooking and easy to get at our local grocery stores. And, to be clear, I’m a home cook, not a trained chef, so my hope is that this will be easy and accessible for anyone to make (and make deliciously well).
FRIED ARTICHOKE HEARTS
Serves 4 as an appetizer
1 can artichoke hearts, drained (or one bag frozen, thawed and drained)
1C Italian-style breadcrumbs*
Salt and Pepper to taste (used to season flour and eggs)
Oil for frying (vegetable oil or olive oil, or a combination of both)
Freshly-grated Parmigiano Reggiano to garnish
Drain artichoke hearts, then slice each one in half, lengthwise
Set up a “breading station.” Pour the flour on one plate, mixed with salt and pepper to taste. Beat the eggs in a bowl, add milk, and also season eggs with salt and pepper to taste.
Pour the breadcrumbs on another plate
Dip the artichoke hearts into the flour, brushing off the excess
Dip the artichokes into the egg mixture, again letting the excess drip off
Dip the artichokes into the breadcrumbs**
Heat a heavy, shallow pan over medium heat, then fill it about halfway up with olive oil. When a breadcrumb dropped into the pan fries and pops (but doesn’t burn), the oil is hot enough.
Add the breaded artichokes in batches until they are golden and crispy, turning once.
Drain on paper towels, arrange on a platter and sprinkle with cheese while they’re still hot.
*I prefer a half and half combination of Italian-style breadcrumbs with Japanese-style panko breadcrumbs and a couple of tablespoons of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano added to the mix for a salty crunch.
**Once breaded, I like to place the artichokes onto a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil, then let them sit in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes (this allows the coating to dry out a bit and makes them extra crispy)
These are best hot from the pan, but are also great at room temperature served with other antipasti. Also, fried foods pair beautifully with bubbles, so these would be a great addition to your New Year’s Eve celebrations. Maybe, if you’re really lucky, the person whom you kiss at midnight will whisper lovingly in your ear, “I can’t believe you made these… then proceeded to eat 25 in a single sitting.”
Happy New Year!
Katherine Roberts is a mid-Valley based writer and marketing professional who thinks the window on blaming COVID for her weight gain is rapidly closing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org