We have a saying in Italy: Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi, that can be roughly translated into stay with your family for Christmas and choose your company for Easter. Christmas is a family institution, you don’t even ask yourself what you will do, because you know that you’ll spend that special day with your relatives. Don’t even try to arrange other plans.
Easter is a different matter: you are almost free to choose where and how you will spend that day. With the help of the warm season, it’s easy to opt for friends and picnics. On Pasquetta, Easter Monday, you start arranging time and place with your friends. Pot luck lunches or barbecues, walks in the countryside or in the nearby mountains are often on the list. This is quite a new habit for me, a grown up habit, and I enjoy every single aspect of the planning of Pasquetta. Needless to say that my favourite moment is deciding what to put into the picnic basket!
Today with the other girls of the Italian Table Talk we’ll see which food Italians usually put into that picnic basket: simple, seasonal and easy to be packed, spring vegetables from artichokes to fava beans are a must, along with good cheese, salame and prosciutto and bread, declined in all its shapes. In Tuscany raw fava beans, pecorino and salame are always present.
Emiko made a torta salata di carciofi, Valeria is using the delicate white asparagus with eggs for a seasonal preparation and Jasmine gathered all the favourite ingredients of a picnic to make a rice salad with spring veggies and cheese.
I was talking about recipes with Lucia, my boyfriend’s mum, and she told me I had to make this recipe from Puglia, focaccia di carciofi. It is not what you would expect form a focaccia: don’t look for a flat bread, since it is a typical savoury cake made with stale bread and artichokes.
Lucia is from Salento in Puglia and has already given me a lot of recipes which make the best out of poor ingredients or leftovers, like in the Tuscan tradition. You should have now understood, after a few years of friendship and softly whispered or strongly recommended recipes that I love stale bread, I love the idea of using it till the last crumb not to throw it away. I’ve made panzanella, pappa al pomodoro and even a now new favourite bread pudding cake, but this was the first time I heard about a similar recipe.
You cook down the artichokes with a good extra virgin olive oil and a clove of garlic. Now that it is in season, choose fresh garlic for a milder flavour. In the meantime you soak the stale bread until soft, then you squeeze it just like when you make panzanella. Squeeze it well, remove the excess water, then mix into the already cooked artichokes. Now comes the time of giving flavour to this cake: Parmigiano Reggiano for some saltiness, fresh herbs like parsley and mint for colour and freshness. A few beaten eggs will bind everything together and help you create a golden crust.
The result after one hour of baking is beyond imagination: crisp on the outside, it keeps a moist and almost melting centre, where all the flavours have perfectly mingled. Brace yourself and wait until warmish, when it will give its best. As an ideal picnic food it can be enjoyed even when cold. Cut out small pieces, wrap them in parchment paper and use a nice kitchen string to keep it closed.
Make room in your Easter picnic basket and enjoy the artichoke and stale bread cake under the shadow of an old oak tree.
A few words about the ingredients and the preparation:
- stale bread: use a good sourdough or crusty bread, not the packed white bread otherwise it won’t soak properly and it will just melt in the water. Our bread, when stale and soaked, gets really elastic and becomes like a sponge and you can later squeeze it and have beautiful soft crumbs.
- artichokes: I used a local kind of artichokes known as Moretti. They are not too big and have a charming wine red colour. Check this Saveur article about Artichoke varieties, mine looked like the oblong siena.
- cleaning the artichokes: this is probably one of the most important steps, because you want to remove all the dark outer leaves and the spiky tops before cooking the artichokes. You probably already know how to clean them properly, but if it is your first time, check this interesting post with step by step instructions.
Focaccia di carciofi - Artichoke and stale bread cake
- 1 lemon
- 10 artichokes
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 clove of fresh garlic
- 750 ml of warm water
- 300 g of stale bread
- 4 eggs
- 100 g of grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley
- 1 sprig of fresh mint
- Salt and black pepper
- Prepare a large bowl of cold water and squeeze one lemon in it. Add the squeezed lemon inside the bowl. Now you can clean the artichokes: snap off the dark green hard outer leaves until only the pale and tender inner leaves remain. Cut off the spiky top of the artichoke. Keep a few centimeters of the stem and trim any dark parts around the bottom. Rub each artichoke with the squeezed lemon and drop them into the lemon water to prevent them from darkening.
- Warm a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil with a clove of fresh garlic in a large pan on medium heat, add the finely trimmed artichokes and stir with a wooden spoon to cover them with olive oil. Pour the warm water and cook uncovered for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until the artichokes are tender.
- In the meanwhile break the bread in pieces and soak it in cold water for a few minutes.
- When the artichokes are ready pour them into a big bowl, add the perfectly squeezed bread, the eggs previously beaten, the grated Parmigiano, the chopped parsley and fresh mint and season with salt and black pepper to taste. Add a glug of extra virgin olive oil and mix thoroughly.
- Preheat oven to 200°C. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil at the bottom of a baking tray (I used a nonstick 37 x 27 baking tray) and scoop the bread and the artichokes inside. Press it gently with a fork and drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on top.
- Bake for about 55 minutes, until golden on top. Serve warm or cold.
Not to lose a single post by the Italian Table talk girls, these are our Social Accounts:
- Emiko, her blog is Emikodavies.com, @emikodavies on Twitter, and her Pinterest
- Valeria, her blog is Life Love Food, @valerianecchio on Twitter, her FB Page and her Pinterest
- Jasmine, her blog is Labna.it, @labna on Twitter, her FB page and her Pinterest
- Juls, my Twitter @Julskitchen, FB page and Pinterest