Artichoke and Mozzarella Bruschetta
It's artichoke season, which means that large 'chokes for relatively low prices are abundant in the markets right now. As luck would have it, it's also the opening of cookout and porch-sitting season here in Maine, so one of my old favorite recipes made its annual return.
This is a fairly labor-intensive recipe, even for me (due to the necessity to liberate the artichoke hearts from their cocoons) so it's a good one to make when you're bringing something to the party, as opposed to when it's your turn to host the gang.
I do think that it's worth the effort, of course, and so did our hosts Joe and Julia. (Julia reported that the leftover artichoke concoction made an excellent addition to a sandwich to brighten up her work day lunch in the week, by the way.) Something about the combination of artichokes, tomatoes, garlic, olives, capers and mozzarella makes for a seductive morsel to open the festivities on a warm spring evening, especially paired with a light, crisp prosecco.
(A note about bruschetta. The Italian word refers to roasting over coals, and the basic idea is just that: bread brushed with some olive oil and grilled, then rubbed with fresh garlic. Toppings are optional, though in a lot of people's minds the definition seems to refer to the topping, not the bread. Bottled "bruschetta" is often seen in stores, though we all know that grilled bread is difficult to get into a bottle. The word is properly pronounced brew-SKETTA, by the way, since in Italian the letter combination "ch" demands the hard "k" sound. If you don't believe me, get an Italian pronunciation lesson by clicking HERE.)
Artichoke Mozzarella Bruschetta
6 large artichokes, with stems if available*
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced, plus another one for rubbing on the bread
1 T olive oil, plus more for basting
1 tsp basalmic vinegar
1-1/2 T capers
8 oil-cured black olives, pitted
3 T parsley, minced
salt, hot sauce to taste
3 oz fresh mozzarella, cut in small dice
Simmer the artichokes for about 45 minutes in salted water.
Meanwhile, sauté the onions slowly in a tablespoon of olive oil, stirring, until they turn translucent. Add two-thirds of the chopped tomatoes and sauté two more minutes, stirring. Off heat, mix in the garlic, olives, and most of the parsley. Rinse the capers, squeeze them dry and add them to the mixture.
Allow the artichokes to cool, then remove the lower leaves and the stringy casing from the stem. Discard leaves and casing. Remove the upper leaves and refrigerate for a snack another time. Remove and discard the "choke" (inedible fiber portion on top of the hearts). Chop the hearts and stems in irregular chunks.
Mix the chopped artichoke hearts and the vinegar into the tomato/onion mixture. Season with salt and hot sauce to taste, and add a touch more vinegar if necessary.
Slice the baguette on the diagonal to make oblong-shaped slices, 3/4 to 1" thick. Brush both sides with olive oil and grill on a hot grill untl the edges start to char.
Rub the grilled bread with a cut piece of garlic and then scatter on most of the mozzarella. Spread on the artichoke mixture (I like a healthy dose, but that's not really necessary). Top with a few more of the mozzarella dice and some of the reserved tomatoes. Place under the broiler for a few minutes, watching carefully, until the cheese melts and starts to run. Scatter on the reserved parsley and serve immediately.
*Prepared artichoke hearts packed in water can be used if you wish, I suppose, though I haven't actually tried it. After you've had freshly-prepared artichoke hearts the done-for-you variety are a disappointment, with little of the delicate artichoke flavor surviving. The predominate taste of this convenience food is of chemical preservatives with undertones of tin can -- so if you go this route you're on your own!