How about a nice ARTICHOKE RECIPE to comfort us a bit?

News are so bad and so sad these days, especially the ones coming out of Haiti...That's when I run to my kitchen for a little comfort. How about a nice "tortino" Florentine-style made with some tender spring artichokes?

There are lots of recipes for this on Internet but, as far as I can see, most of them are wrong. The objective of this recipe is to produce a fluffy omelette that rises in the oven like a soufflé and is filled with crisp, flavourful pieces of artichoke. I've had this only a couple of times in Florence, in one of those old-fashioned trattoria where you just know that you're eating traditional food of the best kind, and it's taken me several tries before I could perfect the recipe.

I could refer you of course to Artusi, the author of the definitive treatise on Tuscan cuisine, but I'll share with you the little secrets that I have discovered that ensure your tortino will come out just right. It's very easy to do but it requires some care. AND good ingredients. Of course, that's a general rule: if you want to prepare good food you just can't skimp on the quality of the ingredients. For example, for frying, I ALWAYS use olive oil. Not necessarily the best most expensive quality, but it's got to be real olive oil: it has a great advantage over all other types of oil on the market. Because of the way it withstands heat, it fries a lot better. AND it's the least bad for your health. AND the best tasting.

Now, back to the artichoke tortino. Turn your oven on (especially if it takes time to heat up like mine does): set it at 180° or mark 6 or whatever heat you normally use to roast a chicken. In other words, hot but not too hot.

Then start with the artichokes. You need 2 small ones per person (or a big one/person - but better small). I use the small variety you find in Italy, the ones with leaves tinged with a lovely violet colour. Actually you can use any type of artichoke, provided you prepare them correctly: you have to peel the stem (to get rid of the thick, string-like fibers) and take out all the external leaves that are tough. Then cut off the artichoke tips, leaving only about half the leaves on, or even less. Be vicious about it! Once you overcome the impression that you're throwing everything away, it is in fact very satisfying to get rid of all those dark green leaves! What you should have left in your hand is just a tiny, tender, yellow-leaf artichoke, maybe half or less of what it looked like before you started hacking at it.

Then cut it in 4 or even 6 pieces lengthwise. And scrape the inside to get rid of that hair which is in the centre and is obviously inedible. At that point, quickly throw the pieces in cold water to which you've added the juice of 1/2 lemon: the purpose of this is to prevent the artichokes of turning black on you.

Next, lay all the pieces on kitchen paper and pat them dry. Then throw them in a bowl and flour them.

Heat olive oil in a deep pan (at least a couple of inches) and when it's close to smoking (but NOT smoking!) throw your floured artichoke pieces in. You should shake off the extra flour and throw them in ONE by ONE. Let them fry until they're a nice golden colour and crisp. Take them out with a perforated spoon and set them to dry on paper.

Now prepare the omelette in the usual way, beating together one or two eggs per person (but never make a tortino with less than 3 eggs: it won't work!). Salt and pepper to taste, a little grated parmigiano (optional) and throw in the fried artichokes.

Oil (or butter) a pyrex dish, pour the egg-artichoke mixture in it, sprinkle with a little grated Parmigiano cheese and put the whole thing in your (now hot) oven.

It takes about 20 minutes to bake (or more depending on the size of your tortino). Watch it rise and turn golden. Check for doneness with a toothpick, but then it's a matter of taste: some people like it real done, others prefer it moist. In any case, don't be disappointed when it starts to come down after you've taken it out of the oven. That's normal: after all, it isn't a French soufflé! It's just an oven-baked omelette...

Ma che buono!

Have a nice glass of red wine ready and warm crusty bread and let me know how you like it!

It's a guaranteed comfort food...
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