Artichoke and Potato Casserole

This Artichoke and Potato Casserole has “company” written all over it. It is a dish inspired by my Sicilian heritage. Sicilians love artichokes and deftly prepare them in unique ways: baked stuffed with breadcrumbs and cheese; slowly stewed with tomatoes and onions; fried so the leaves are as crisp as potato chips; and roasted in hot embers right on the ground!

Serves 6

4 medium artichokes
1 ½ pounds baking potatoes, washed, peeled and cut in thin, round slices
Salt, to taste
¼  teaspoon white pepper, divided
2 ½ cups milk or light cream
2/3 cup grated Pecorino cheese

1. Preparing artichokes

Getting to the most tender part of the artichoke requires the fortitude of an archaeologist—in the kitchen, we must scrape away layers of leaves and struggle to remove that hairy choke at the very bottom before the big payoff, the tender heart.

But, there is an easier way. Strip away the tough outer leaves (and this could mean a couple of layers) with your fingers by bending the leaves backward, or using scissors and cut them off. You’ll know when you have taken off enough of the tough leaves when the color of the leaves turns from dark to pale green. Chop off about 1/4-inch from the top and scrape the stem end with a vegetable peeler. Cut the artichokes in half lengthwise and place them cut-side down in a large saucepan. Cover them with water and bring to a boil. Lower to the heat to medium low, cover the pot and cook until you can pull off one of the leaves without any effort. Drain and cool. Remove the remaining outer leaves (save them to nibble on). Use a small spoon or a melon-ball scooper to easily remove the hairy choke and pale yellow leaves.

Prepared this way, artichokes become edible containers that can be filled with cheese, cooked rice, diced vegetables or just melted butter, which is my favorite. Nutty and mild with a slightly sweet taste, the artichoke is art itself.  

2. Clean the artichokes, then cut the hearts into thin slices.

3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Toss the potatoes in a bowl with salt and pepper.

4.  Lightly butter a 14-inch-by-21/2-inch-deep casserole or au gratin pan. Make a layer of potatoes in the dish, overlapping them slightly. Arrange half the artichoke heart slices over the potatoes; sprinkle artichokes with salt and pepper. Then make another layer as the first, and finish with a third layer of potatoes.

5. Slowly pour the milk or cream over the potatoes. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes.

6.  Uncover the dish, sprinkle the cheese over the top, and bake for an additional 15 minutes or until the cheese has browned slightly. Serve immediately.