A couple of years ago, my friend John Kramer called to complain about artichokes.|

A couple of years ago, my friend John Kramer called to complain about artichokes.

Why were all the local markets suddenly carrying a thornless variety that had little meat on its petals and didn't cook properly?, he wondered.

I'd noticed the same thing, and after we commiserated awhile, we agreed that it must be some sort of conspiracy, similar to the watermelon cartel that produces melons for lack of seeds, not for flavor. We also agreed to alert each other if we found the traditional Green Globe variety, the ones that feel heavy for their size and are a uniform medium green.

When John died late last month, I thought of this passion he had for artichokes and thought, too, of an article I'd written in the late 1990s about men who do most of the shopping and cooking for their families.

The column was inspired by a book I'd come across, "The Stag Cook Book, Written by Men for Men" (George H. Doran Company, 1922), a little tome inspired by the domestic science movement, which consisted primarily of a group of women attempting to codify nutrition and remove pleasure and delight from the equation. They were reluctant even to acknowledge that the pleasure we take in eating is natural and necessary.

The book is a wry and witty backlash, with contributions from well-known men of the day, including Charlie Chaplin, John Philip Sousa and our own Luther Burbank.

(My story appeared several years ago. I've posted it in its entirety at "Eat This Now" at

John, who was one of two local men I featured in the story, loved to eat as much as he loved to cook. Meals with him were punctuated by little exclamations of pleasure: Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm, he'd say over and over when nibbling something particularly wonderful.

It is fitting, I suppose, that the last time I saw him was at the Sebastopol farmers market, where we frequently ran into each other and traded tips on hidden treasures not to be missed.

"Let's have lunch soon," he said, as I waved so long and responded with an enthusiastic "Yes!"

A few days later, John underwent surgery for a fast-growing brain tumor and would be gone before artichoke season came around again.

Like most true cooks, John Kramer did not refer to recipes all that often, and when he gave me this one he simply described how he cooked, using his expressive hands to demonstrate both quantities and techniques.

He also said that he'd taken to hiding the stuffing in a high cupboard so that his wife and kids didn't eat it all before he'd had a chance to stuff the artichokes. It's that good, he said. I concur.

John Kramer's

Stuffed Artichokes

Makes 6 servings

6 large Green Globe artichokes

2 or 3 lemons

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 pound (more or less, to taste) pancetta, prosciutto or ham, minced

6 garlic cloves, minced

3 cups fresh breadcrumbs (see note below)

1 cup minced Italian parsley

4 ounces (more or less, to taste) Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

-- Kosher salt

-- Black pepper in a mill

First, trim the artichokes. Cut the stems down to 1 inch and use a vegetable peeler to peel them. Cut about an inch off the top, and then use a large, heavy spoon to scoop out the smallest inner leaves and the choke. After cutting each artichoke, rub the cut surface with lemon to prevent browning.

In a large, heavy pot, heat a little of the olive oil, add the meat and saute several minutes. Add the garlic and saute 1 minute more. Remove from the heat. Place the breadcrumbs in a large bowl, add the garlic mixture, parsley and cheese and toss. Add enough of the remaining olive oil that the stuffing sticks together. Squeeze lemon juice over it, taste, season with salt and pepper, and add more lemon juice until it tastes really good.

To stuff the artichokes, hold one over the bowl of stuffing and fill the center of the artichoke. Press the leaves toward the center so that the artichoke closes over the stuffing. Set the pot over medium-low heat and add the first stuffed artichoke, setting it on its side. As you fill each artichoke, add it to the pot and turn the others, so that by the time all have been stuffed, they have been slightly browned, as well.

Add about 3/4 -inch of water to the pot, bring to a boil, cover and simmer for about 45 minutes, until the artichokes are tender.

Note: To make fresh breadcrumbs, cut two- or three-day-old country-style bread into cubes (or tear it into pieces), place a large handful of cubes in the work bowl of a food processor, and pulse until the cubes are reduced to crumbs. If the bread is particularly fresh, the crumbs might be fluffier, in which case you'll need more than the amount given.

You will likely have tapenade left over. Simply refrigerate it and use it within a day or two. I love it tossed with linguine and fresh ricotta or in a sandwich of sliced rare lamb.

Olive and Artichoke Tapenade with Fresh Ricotta and Croutons

Makes 6 servings

1 baguette, cut in thin diagonal slices

3 large Green Globe artichokes, cooked until just tender

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 garlic cloves

2 or 3 anchovy fillets, drained

2 teaspoons green peppercorns in brine, drained

1 teaspoon minced lemon zest

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup (6 ounces) cracked green olives, pitted and minced

1/4 cup (2 ounces) walnut pieces, toasted and minced

1 tablespoon Italian parsley, minced

-- Black pepper in a mill

12 ounces fresh ricotta, preferably sheep ricotta from Bellwether Farms

Set the baguette slices on a baking sheet and toast, turning once, in a 300-degree oven until they are golden brown, about 10-12 minutes. Set aside.

Fill a large pot two-thirds full with water, add the salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Using kitchen shears, snip off the tips of the outer leaves of the artichokes. Drizzle a little of the olive oil in the center of each artichoke and place in the boiling water. Return to a boil, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer until the artichokes are tender, from 20 to 40 minutes, depending on their size and age.

Meanwhile, use a suribachi or a mortar and pestle to grind the garlic and anchovies together until they form a smooth paste. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the green peppercorns, lemon zest and juice, and olive oil, scraping the sides of the bowl as you mix. Set aside.

Transfer the artichokes to a colander or strainer, rinse them under cool water, drain thoroughly and let cool. When they are cool enough to handle, remove all of the leaves, reserving them for another use. Use a teaspoon or a small, sharp paring knife to cut away the choke in the center of each artichoke heart. Discard the chokes and cut the hearts into 1/4 -inch dice.

In a medium bowl, combine the diced artichoke hearts, olives, walnuts, and olive oil mixture. Add the parsley (or tarragon) and several turns of black pepper. Taste and season with salt. Let rest 30 minutes before serving.

To serve, spread a little ricotta on each crouton, top with tapenade and serve immediately.

Michele Anna Jordan hosts "Mouthful" each Sunday at 7 p.m. on KRCB 90.9 & 91.1 FM. Email Jordan at michele@micheleanna You'll find her blog, "Eat This Now," at pantry.blogs.

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