In fertile Puglia, the “heel” of Italy’s boot, no scrap of land lies bare if it can possibly nourish an artichoke plant or a few tomatoes. Farmers even grow cauliflower, broccoli rabe, and other vegetables between the neat rows of their olive trees, apparently determined to squeeze the highest return from what ground they have. A good share of the harvest ends up in the family pasta pot, paired with the signature shape of the region: orecchiette. The vegetables, like the artichokes in this recipe, are always fully cooked, never al dente, to produce a simple but deeply flavorful sauce for the sturdy pasta.
Yield: Serves 4 to 6
24 baby artichokes, 1½ to 2 ounces each
8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of hot pepper flakes
¼ cup dry white wine
4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup minced fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
1 pound orecchiette
¼ cup toasted bread crumbs (see Notes), plus more for passing at the table
Fill a large bowl with water and add the juice of the lemon. To trim the artichokes, peel back the outer leaves until they break off at the base. Keep removing leaves until you reach the pale green heart. Cut across the top of the heart to remove the pointed leaf tips. If the stem is still attached, cut it down to ½ inch, then trim the stem and base to remove any dark green or brown parts. Cut each heart into 6 or 8 wedges, then immediately place in the lemon water to prevent browning.
Heat 6 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over moderate heat. Drain the artichokes and add them to the skillet. Season with salt to taste and the hot pepper flakes. Add the wine and ¼ cup water. Bring the liquid to a simmer, then cover, adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook until the artichokes are very tender and beginning to break apart, 30 to 35 minutes. Uncover occasionally, stir, and add more water if the mixture threatens to cook dry.
While the artichokes are cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When the artichokes are tender, stir in the garlic and parsley. Cook for a couple of minutes to release their flavor. Keep the artichokes warm over low heat.
Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta and return it to the warm pot over low heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and toss well, then add the artichokes. Toss again, divide the pasta among warm bowls, and sprinkle each portion with some of the bread crumbs. Pass the additional bread crumbs at the table.
To toast bread crumbs: Heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil in a small skillet over moderately low heat. Add ½ cup fine bread crumbs and stir to coat with the oil. Season lightly with salt. Cook, stirring often, over moderately low heat until the crumbs are an even, deep golden brown, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.