Thursday, October 6, 2011

Stuffed Artichokes, Columbus Day & National Italian-American Heritage Month

Every year the United States President signs an executive order declaring October as “National Italian-American Heritage Month.” This is a perfect time to enjoy the festivities surrounding Columbus Day and to recognize the many achievements, contributions, culture, history, and food, of  Americans of Italian descent. There were over 5.4 million Italians that immigrated to the United States between 1820 and 1992. Today there are over 26 million Italian Americans living in the United States. This makes them the fifth largest ethnic group. The new World was named “America” for Amerigo Vespucci (1451-1512), the Florentine explorer and geographer who was a friend to Columbus.

The first recorded celebration of Columbus Day in the United States took place in New York City, on October 12, 1792, when a group known as the Columbian Order held a parade to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the landing of Columbus. In 1866, following the start of Italian immigration to the U.S., another parade was held in New York City, this time by the Italians celebrating their link with American history. In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared October 12, Columbus Day, as a national holiday. In 1971 the US Congress voted to move the official celebration of Columbus Day to the second Monday in October, which now is a federal holiday.

On August 3, 1492, Christopher Columbus, a sailor from Genoa, Italy, and the 88 members of his crew, plus their families, attended mass in the Church of St. George the Martyr. They prayed for a safe voyage. Leaving the church they boarded their three ships, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, which was Columbus’ flagship, and began their voyage to the East Indies. October 12, is also celebrated in Spain, the country which sent Columbus on his famous voyage and whose Queen, Isabella of Castile, provided the financing (money came from the Queen’s personal funds not the national treasury) for his expedition. In Spain, the holiday is known as Hispanic Day, and it is celebrated with a huge parade in Madrid. In New York City, they celebrate with an annual parade which is also broadcasted internationally to Italy. While it is a nationally recognized holiday, not everyone is quick to participate in the festivities. Many people are insisting that it is not fair to celebrate a “discovery” that already had inhabitants, the Native Americans and therefore some states celebrate the holiday by a different name. 
The arrival of Europeans in the Americas was without a doubt one of the most important events in modern history, including food history. Many foods that were native to the Americas were brought to Europe and even more European products were brought back to America. Many Americans, especially Italian-Americans, celebrate Columbus Day with food. Food from Italy and many other countries are highlighted at parades and celebrations. In honor of the meal that Christopher Columbus must have eaten on the sail to the Americas, people cook a typical seamen’s dinner. That meal consisted of fish, potatoes, beef, cheese and a variety of other foods such as rice, dried fruits and legumes.

Italy- Late 1800's
(hard to see, click on photo)
My great-great-grandparents
Vincent & Josphine Puzelli
on my mom's side
Even though it must have been a good meal for them on the sea, it just doesn’t sound Italian enough for me. Were was the lasagna, meatballs, pasta, and we can’t forget Italian cookies and desserts? Well, I am not at sea, but I do have a wonderful recipe of the week for you and it is called “Stuffed Italian Artichokes.” I know, you must be saying, I don’t like them, you are wrong! Until you have tried my mom’s recipe made with spices, cheese, and bread crumbs all tucked together inside the leaves of this wonderful little green vegetable and then baked with a crispy top, you really haven’t tasted anything like this before! Now, that’s Italian! So in honor of my Italian-American Heritage and Columbus Day, have fun, celebrate and eat something Italian.

"Buon Appetito!”

"Stuffed Italian Artichokes"

6 medium artichokes
1 1/4 cups of bread crumbs (plain)
1/2 cup of grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
1/2 cup of fresh chopped parsley
2 teaspoons of minced garlic (fresh or jar)
3/4 teaspoon of salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
1/3 cup of olive oil or vegetable oil

Cut off stem and ¾ off the top of artichoke. Then remove some of the outer leaves at the bottom. Use scissors to clip off top of side leaves. (that removes the sticky point on each leaf) Then wash in deep bowl. Fill large pot with water and boil. Place the artichokes in pot carefully and lower heat to medium for about 7 minutes. Fork test bottom of artichoke for tenderness. If fork goes in and out easily, they are done. Next drain and run cold water on artichokes let them sit and cool off. While they are cooling down, mix the bread crumbs, parsley, minced garlic, grated cheese and a sprinkle of salt with pepper. Mix in a little oil with hands. When it feels like a sandy consistency then you are ready to fill. Gently spread the leaves a little apart and sprinkle some of the bread crumb mixture between each of the leaves. Place the now stuffed artichokes in a glass Pyrex baking dish. (7x11x1.5) Drizzle a small amount of oil on top of each artichoke. Put a small amount of water in bottom of pan about ¼ inch deep. Bake for about 25-30 minutes at 350° The top should be a little browned and crispy, when they are ready to eat.

Till Next Time…….
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  1. Nice background information here, I have enjoyed reading. Your stuffed artichoke is awesome, that picture is now making me crave this. thanks for sharing

  2. Thanks Tina, you really have to try the recipe. It is so good, you'll want to make it all the time. Glad that you enjoyed. :)