I was about six or seven when I saw it. I was rummaging around my Grandma Powell’s cupboards looking for something delicious to eat. Exploring her cabinets was like going on an excursion to a foreign land and discovering all the exotic, indiginous species. The galley kitchen was filled with all sorts of cookery that I had never experienced in my seven year existance. There were shelves of spices, tomatoes on windowsills, homemade pies on the counter and cookbooks accumulated over many, many years. It was then that I discovered the non-distinct can of artichoke hearts. I remember thinking “What kind of animal is an artichoke and why in the world does my Grandmother have their hearts stocked in a tin can innocently on the shelf?” I thought she was weird.
In all fairness, my family does have some food traditions that I would consider, um, not typical for most American families. Well, they might be more typical for a family hailing from Northern Michigan. We are the type that shoots a deer from a bedroom window and then lives on venison for the next six months. Did I mention the family delicacy is pickled deer heart? Yeah. So you can see my cause for alarm when I discovered the artichoke hearts. I knew deer hunting season was in November (no school opening day!) but I wondered when artichoke season was. I mean, I never even saw my Dad put on his camoflauge jumpsuit complete with ridiculous hat and bright orange vest.
Ok, clearly I wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. Even when I thought my Grandmother was secretly killing artichokes in between weekend visits, I was watching her with wide eyed wonder whenever she was in the kitchen. If I had to credit one person as the inspiration for my passion for cooking, it would be her. She taught me to love and get excited about food. She also taught me to try EVERYTHING she makes or else I was going to get that unbearable look of extreme disappointment. It wasn’t that I didn’t like fish eggs and pickled animal parts, but that my seven year old taste buds weren’t refined enough to love it yet. But the mere exposure of all types of foods and cuisines made me a much more adventurous eater as an adult. I could go on forever about the influence my Grandmother had but I will save some for later posts. Thank you, Grandma, for teaching me to put my heart and soul into everything I cook. I know you’re helping from heaven! Someday, I hope to give my own grandkids sideways glances when they don’t like the new foods I’m exposing them to 🙂 Love and miss you every day.
Clearly, I know now that artichoke hearts are actually a very tasty, somewhat tangy, vegetable. Artichokes seemed to enjoy a resurgance in the early late 90’s as spinich and artichoke dip showed up at every holiday gathering, bridal shower, and cocktail party nestled cozily in a hollowed out bread bowl. Personally, I feel like the flavors of the spinich and artichoke get lost in the gobs of melted cheese so I wanted to make something a little more restrained. I mean, anything is better with cheese on it, but when was the last time you enjoyed a vegetable for the its pure simplicity?
I decided to make tomatoes stuffed with spinich, artichokes, and croutons. I sprayed some sandwhich thins with a little olive oil and then sprinkled them generously with garlic powder and italian seasoning. When they were brown and crispy, I took them out of the 350 degree oven and cubed them up.
In another bowl, I combined canned chopped artichokes, spinich, garlic powder, italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. I stirred in the croutons and added a little bit of mozzerella cheese to the mixture.
I stuffed this mixture into hollowed out tomatoes and topped with breadcrumbs. I got the tomatoes all comfy, cozy in a baking dish and then put some vegetable stock around the ‘maters so they could enjoy a nice steam bath in a 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes. I actually ended up cranking up the temperature to about 400 for the last 10 minutes to soften up tomatoes a bit. While they were cooking, I worked on a making my first balsamic reduction. I pretty much love balsamic vinegar on everything veggie related but this was my first attempt at turning it into a syrup. I have been missing out on something wonderful! After simmering the vinegar and letting it reduce, it turned into this sweet, viscous syrup that was, in a word, amazing. When the tomatoes finished baking, I drizzled a little on the top of my tomatoes (hubs doesn’t like vinegar) and dinner was complete!
It didn’t look quite as picturesque as I was hoping, but it tasted delicioso. The balsamic softened up all the crunchy, crouton bits, and it tasted like a warm, bread-y salad. I tried to pick the freshest, ripest tomatoes the store had to offer, but I think this recipe will be much better at the height of tomato picking season. I also want to try it with fresh artichokes instead of canned. Preparing a fresh artichoke is one more thing I want to knock off my culinary checklist. Look for more artichoke recipes in the near future!