CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- You might have noticed that the produce section in your food market is chock-full of great deals on artichokes this time of year. Most of these semiobscure 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 list of favorite foods. 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, complain they can't find a wine that gets along with these spiny, cylindrical balls. 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 bath, 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 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 accompanying recipe, white still worked 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 (alla Calabrese)
2 medium-size artichokes, stems reserved
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon chili flakes