The artichoke season is drawing to a close. Time to pickle up a few so we’ll have something to think about in the summer days ahead. Carciofi sott’olio are great on an antipasto tray, and also a nice sharp addition to summer salads. This recipe comes from Flavors of Puglia, my long out-of-print but still (she said modestly) wonderful book.
In Puglia, as in most of Italy, cooks use what are called carciofini, the smallest artichokes and if you can find them in the U.S., by all means use them. Otherwise, use those big globe artichokes from California, cut them in quarters, and be sure to remove the thorny “choke” in the center—a process that usually isn’t necessary with carciofini or baby artichokes. You’ll need 8 or 9 of the big ones, about 2 to 2½ pounds of smaller ones. And a bunch of lemons, some white wine vinegar, bay leaves, peppercorns, garlic if you wish, and of course extra-virgin olive oil—because without oil, they wouldn’t be sott’olio, would they?
In a saucepan large enough to hold all the ingredients, mix 1 ½ cups of white wine vinegar with 2 ½ cups of water. Add a few bay leaves, a teaspoon or so of black peppercorns, and a few slivers of garlic if you wish. Some cooks also add a half teaspoon of whole cloves—I don’t but suit yourself. Slice another lemon and add the slices to the pan. Set it over high heat and when the liquid is boiling, drain the artichokes and add them to the pan. Return to a boil and cook for just about 5 minutes, until the artichokes are starting to get tender. Remove from the heat and drain immediately—it’s important not to overcook the artichokes, especially if you’re planning to process them later (see below).
Have ready about 3 one-pint canning jars, making sure they are scrupulously clean. Transfer the artichokes to the jars and distribute the bay leaves, garlic and peppercorns (and cloves, too, if you’re using them) among the jars. Cover with olive oil completely and screw down the jar lids. Store them in a cool place for two weeks.
If you want to keep the artichokes for a longer period, you should process them in a boiling water bath. Put the jars in a stock pot lined with kitchen towels to keep the jars from banging together. Fill the pot with water to cover the jars to a depth of 1 inch. Bring slowly to a boil and boil for 20 minutes. Remove the jars from the stockpot as soon as you can handle them and tighten the screw tops if necessary.