John Brown has been a wine and food columnist in West Virginia since the 1980’s. His regular columns appear in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail under the title Vines & Vittles and in The State Journal - a statewide business weekly

Artichokes and wine: Peeling back the mystery!

You may have noticed that the produce section in your local food market is chock full of great deals on artichokes this time of year. Most of these semi-obscure vegetables are grown and harvested in California or Florida, and I covet the little buggers about as much as I do our wild and wonderful ramps, which are also at their peak in springtime.

Now artichokes (and certainly ramps) are not on everyone’s favorite foods list. In fact, I surmise that most people eat artichokes less frequently than ramps and about as often as they might consume … say… chicken lips - which is less than never.

Those who do like artichokes, though, have one overriding complaint: they can’t find a wine that gets along with these spiny cylindrical balls. The overwhelming complaint is that artichokes make all wine taste sweet. My own experimentation initially resulted in the same impression. Neither white nor red worked.

Most people who do take the time (and it does take a considerable time commitment) to prepare artichokes use the standard butter/garlic/lemon bathe, or some version of an aioli whereby the leaves of the vegetable are dipped into the sauce and then consumed by sliding them between the upper and lower teeth.

Try as I might, I had been unsuccessful in finding any wine that would do anything other than turn overly sweet when sipped after eating artichokes in this manner. Now, the artichoke heart is another matter. No problem with using this in salads or in an omelet and finding a white wine- particularly sauvignon blanc – that matched it. But the leaves are another matter.

However, I am not easily deterred when it comes to finding a way to marry two of my favorite consumables, and so I persisted until I created a modified version of an old Italian family recipe - and that did the trick!

My dear mother would stuff the artichoke leaves with a fairly potent combination of ingredients and then serve them as an appetizer or just have around the home for snacking. I have prepared artichokes in this manner for years and, while this treatment fared better with wine, it still fell a little short.

Then a revelation -like a bolt of lightening – hit me in the middle of the night. What this dish needed was more substance in the form of Italian sausage. The rest is history and I’ll share it with you.

This year I took a bold step into uncharted culinary territory by adding ramps to the mixture. Exquisite!!

As far as wine matches with the recipe below, white still worked the best although I would substitute chardonnay for sauvignon blanc. Try a medium to full bodied chardonnay such as Acacia Carneros, Chalone Estate or Talley Vineyards. If you dare to add ramps, you’ll need a big zin such as Ridge Geyserville or full-bodied Malbec such as Catena.

Wild and Wonderful Stuffed Artichokes (ala Calabrese) 2 medium sized artichokes, stems reserved 1 egg 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 teaspoon dried oregano 1 teaspoon chili flakes 2 teaspoons of minced garlic 1 half cup of grated pecorino romano cheese 2 and one half cups of toasted Italian bread crumbs 2 links of cooked Italian sausage finely chopped 1 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground pepper 1 half cup of chopped ramps (optional) 4 twelve inch long pieces of aluminum foil

Prepare the artichokes by cutting the stems off the bottom (reserve) and take about three quarters of an inch off the tops and discard them

Trim the stems on all sides until the center (white in color) is revealed. Chop this up and add to the mixture

Spread open the artichoke leaves and with an ice cream scoop or spoon carefully take out the center section or choke part of the vegetable

In a mixing bowl, combine the oregano, chili flakes, ramps, sausage, bread crumbs cheese, artichoke stems, salt and pepper and mix in the egg

Preheat the oven to 425 F

Spoon in the artichoke mixture (starting from the center) and adding it to as many of the leaves as possible

Drizzle olive oil evenly over the artichokes and double rap with the aluminum foil

Bake at 425F for 90 minutes, allow to cool and serve.

You may wish to make this dish ahead of time, refrigerate and use it as a heavy appetizer. Be sure to allow the artichokes to come to room temperature before serving.

Enjoy !!

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