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Stuffed Artichokes

Aren't these beautiful? These are Big Heart artichokes which I found at Papa Joe's, in Birmingham. They're much bigger than the regular globe artichokes in the local grocery store. These are special, but you can certainly make this recipe with globe artichokes, which I usually use.

If you've never prepared an artichoke before, give it a try. Once you've done the first one, it's a cinch. It's not as hard as you would think. This is a great vegetarian dish for lunch or you can serve it as a side dish.  The stuffing is really delicious and has a little zing to it because of the red pepper flakes!

Stuffed Artichokes


This recipe will stuff 2 large Big Heart artichokes or 3 regular Globe artichokes.

  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 cups chopped mushrooms (use any kind you like)
  • large pinch of red hot pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs*
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup white wine

*Don't use dried bread crumbs from the grocery store.  Make your own, fresh.  Just take some sourdough bread, or any kind of bakery bread like Italian or French.  It can be stale.  Cut off the crusts and place the bread in a food processor and process until it becomes crumbs. You can keep these in a plastic container in the fridge quite a long time. They're much better than buying them.

First, make sure you have a really sharp knife. Have a lemon, cut in half, ready.

Slice the top inch or so of the artichoke off. These tops of the leaves are inedible.

Slice off the stem of the artichoke, so the artichoke sits flat.

Snap off the small, touch outer leaves near the bottom of the artichoke.

Using scissors, snip off the tops of the remaining leaves.

Squeeze lemon juice all over the cut leaves. This helps prevent the artichoke from turning brown.

Start pulling out the inner, purplish leaves. Keep pulling the inner leaves out until you expose the entire choke at the bottom.

Taking a small spoon, scrape out the hairy choke. Drizzle some more lemon on the inside of the artichoke.  Keep the lemon halves for later.

Make the filling:

Saute the onion in a skillet for a few minutes with a pinch of salt, until the onion is soft. Add the garlic and saute 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and stirring frequently, saute for 5-6 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes. Transfer mixture to a bowl. Add the parsley, bread crumbs and parmesan cheese.

Fill the artichoke with the stuffing mixture. Do not pack.

Place stuffed artichokes in a baking dish. Fill dish with water until the water comes up about an inch around the artichokes. Place cut lemons in the dish. Add the wine in the water. Cover with foil. Bake at 400 degrees for an hour to an hour and a half, depending on the size of the artichokes. To test for doneness, pull out one of the leaves and when the fleshy part is soft, it is done.



Stracciatella Tortoni Cake

In Italy, when you go to a gelato shop, stracciatella is the vanilla gelato with chocolate chip shavings in it. The gelato shops, of course, were a real hit with my kids. This tortoni is lighter than gelato, but still has the chocolate chip shavings in it. It's not really a cake, but a frozen dessert. It has a wonderful almond and amaretti cookie crust. The chocolate sauce is outstanding.  It was in this month's issue of Gourmet magazine, and I couldn't resist trying it out.

Stracciatella Tortoni Cake


Serves 6 (I cut mine into 10 slices - I thought they were big enough!)


For the crust:
  • 2/3 cup finely ground amaretti cookies, about 17 cookies*
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds with skin, finely ground
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled


For the tortoni filling:

  • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature 30 minutes
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1.25 cups chilled heavy cream
  • 2 Tbsp Disaronno Amaretto
  • 3.5 oz. bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao) shaved with a vegetable peeler
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds with skin


For the sauce:


  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 3 Tbsp light corn syrup
  • 3 Tbsp packed brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3.5 oz. bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao)
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract



 Make crust:

Butter a 9x5 loaf pan and line bottom and short sides with a strip of parchment paper, leaving an overhang on each end.

Stir together ground cookies, ground almonds, and butter, then firmly press over bottom of pan. Freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.

Make tortoni filling:

Beat egg whites with sugar, cream of tartar and 1/8 tsp salt in a large metal bowl set over a large saucepan of simmering water, using a handheld mixer at medium-high speed until whites hold soft peaks and an instant read thermometer registers 170 degrees F, about 7 minutes.

Remove bowl from pan and continue to beat meringue until it just holds stiff peaks, about 2 minutes.

Beat cream with Amaretto in another bowl at medium speed using cleaned beaters until it just holds stiff peaks. Fold in half of meringue gently but thoroughly. Fold in remaining meringue along with chocolate. Spoon over crust, smoothing top with spatula. Sprinkle with almonds. Freeze, uncovered, until firm, about 3 hours.

Make sauce: 

Bring cream, corn syrup, brown sugar, cocoa, 1/8 tsp salt and half of chopped chocolate to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until chocolate is melted. Reduce heat and cook at a slow boil, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and remaining chocolate until smooth. Cool to warm.


To serve: Dip bottom of loaf pan in 1 inch of warm water in a pan 1 seconds, then lift tortoni out of pan using parchment paper. Transfer to a platter.


* Amaretti cookies are a traditional Italian almond cookie that you can find in specialty gourmet shops or order online. I get some hard to find things at A.G. Ferrari Foods.




Lasagna with Red Pepper Tomato Sauce

This is a recipe I adapted years ago from Giuliano Bugialli, the famous Italian cooking instructor in Florence, Italy. This lasagna is totally homemade, from the noodles to the bechamel sauce. It contains no meat and is very light. The noodles are rolled out very thin and the recipe uses bechamel sauce instead of ricotta cheese. The tomato sauce, though, is really outstanding. The addition of red peppers to the tomatoes makes for a fuller, richer flavor and even if you do not make the lasagna, this tomato sauce is great with pasta.

There are three items in this recipe that make up this lasagna and you must make them all from scratch - the noodles, the tomato sauce and the bechamel. If this seems daunting to you, try making the tomato sauce a day ahead and refrigerate it. You can make the bechamel in the morning and refrigerate that too, until you are ready to assemble the lasagna. Have you read my older Pasta Fresca post about how to make homemade pasta? You might want to check that out. Yes, this recipe is a lot of work, but it makes the lightest, freshest lasagna you will ever taste.

Lasagna with Red Pepper Tomato Sauce 

This recipe is for an 8x8 baking pan.


For the pasta:

  • 3 cups Italian 00 flour or unbleached all purpose flour
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 4 egg yolks 

For the tomato sauce:

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 large red bell peppers, seeded & coarsely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 large can Italian San Marzano tomatoes (or plum tomatoes, if you can't find San Marzano)
  • 1/4 cup Italian parsley sprigs (leaves only)

For the bechamel sauce:

  • 1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups whole milk


For the tomato sauce:
Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add peppers and whole garlic and cook 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and parsley. Cover and simmer 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper to taste. Insert immersion blender and puree sauce. (Or pour sauce into blender or food processor, puree and pour back into pot. Then go out and buy an immersion blender.) Simmer sauce until sauce is thick, about 15 minutes more. Transfer sauce to bowl and let cool. (Can be made 1 day ahead and refrigerated.)

For the bechamel sauce:
Melt butter in heavy medium saucepan over low heat, add flour and whisk. Cook for 1 minute. Add milk, whisking constantly. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes, whisking constantly, until sauce has thickened up. Season with salt and pepper (I use a little white pepper). It is essential that the bechamel have some salt in order for the taste to be right. Pour into large Pyrex or a bowl and cool to room temperature, stirring every few minutes to prevent a skin from forming.

For the pasta:
Arrange flour in mound on work surface and make well in center. Break eggs in well. With fork, gently beat eggs and begin gradually drawing flour into the eggs. When enough flour has been incorporated to enable you to handle the dough, start kneading the dough. If it is too sticky, add a little more flour. (I make this in my KitchenAid mixer, with the dough hook.)   Knead dough until smooth. If making it in mixer, when you take it out of the mixer, also knead briefly by hand.  When you have a nice firm dough that's not too sticky, wrap it in a floured piece of plastic wrap and let it sit about 20 minutes to rest.

Cut a piece of the dough and flatten it (keep remainder covered).  Turn pasta machine to widest setting (setting #1) and run dough through.  Dust dough with flour if sticky and fold into thirds.  Run through machine a few more times until smooth.  Adjust machine to next narrower setting and run dough through, dusting lightly with flour if sticky.  Keep doing this until you have run the dough through setting #5.  Lay the noodles out on a floured surface and repeat with remaining dough.  Cut pasta into 12" long strips. You should have 24 pasta strips when finished. (If you do not have 24 strips, don't worry - just don't make as many layers when you assemble the lasagna.)

Bring large amount of salted water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice and water for ice bath.  Add 3 pasta strips and after water is boiling again, cook for about 10 seconds.  Transfer pasta to ice bath to cool.  Set on towels in single layer.  You can stack towels/pasta on top of each other.  

To assemble:
Butter an 8x8 baking dish.   Arrange 2 strips one way, allowing edges to hang over.  Spread 1/3 of the bechamel sauce over pasta.

Sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan.  Cover with another layer of pasta, laying the strips the opposite way.  

Spoon on 1/3 cup tomato sauce.  Repeat pasta and tomato sauce layers 3 more times.  Add another layer of pasta, then another 1/3 of the bechamel and 1/4 cup Parmesan.  Make 4 more layers each of pasta and tomato sauce.  


Top with another layer of pasta.  Cover with remaining bechamel and Parmesan.  Cover with final layer of pasta.  Fold edges in over top layer or trim off hanging edges if you want.  It probably makes it a little easier to slice if you cut off the edges.  I just folded mine over - this is how Bugialli makes his.  (Can be prepared 1 day ahead and refrigerated.  Bring fully to room temperature before continuing.) Preheat over to 375. Bake lasagna uncovered until top is light golden brown and crisp, about 30 minutes.



tip: Try to use San Marzano tomatoes from Italy. Yes, they really are different than the ones grown domestically. It's because of the soil and climate where they are grown in Italy.


tip: Giuliano Bugialli does not add mozzarella cheese to the top of this lasagna. It makes a golden, crisp crust on top. If you really want the cheese on top for a softer texture, you can certainly add that. Cover the lasagna when it bakes.