One of springtime's earliest vegetables are artichokes with a delicate flavor that is something between asparagus and celery root. Full of fiber and antioxidants, which manages blood sugar levels, they are most delicious when stuffed and roasted Italian style.

Traditionally served as an appetizer, you won't believe how healthy this flavorful, aromatic recipe is and how easy it is to prepare-- the artichokes steam while roasting. Once they are cooked, scrape the meaty part and stuffing off the leaves with your teeth, working your way to the most delicious 'heart' and stem.

Artichokes are round or tulip-shaped and green, and its edible parts are just above the stem and base of the leaves. When selecting, choose with stem and thick green leaves that 'squeak' when pulled off, guaranteeing freshness (Avoid brown or cracked leaves, and any other signs of age and bruising). Store unwashed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If preparing same day, place them in a bowl with cold water and juice of 1 lemon; refrigerate until ready to use.

ROASTED STUFFED ARTICHOKES ITALIAN-STYLE

INGREDIENTS

4 medium-size fresh artichokes

1/2 lemon

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

4 Tbsp Italian style Panko bread crumbs (gluten-free optional)

3 Tbsp freshly grated parmigiano- reggiano cheese

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Lemon wedges, for serving

PREPARATION

Preheat oven to 375ºF.


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Prepare artichokes:

Peel off bottom layer leaves until you reach the leaves that are green only at the tip. Using a serrated knife, slice 1-1/2 inches off the tops. Pull out the sharp inner leaves and, using a melon baller, scrape out the fuzzy choke. Cut off leaf tips using kitchen shears. Trim the dark green outer skin from the base and stem using a knife or peeler. Trim the stem leaving 2 to 3 inches in length. To prevent discoloration, rub all cut surfaces with 1/2 lemon; return to lemon water until ready to use.

Prepare stuffing: Combine bread crumbs, cheese, garlic and parsley. Slowly add olive oil and combine, so mixture is not too dry or wet. Season with salt and pepper.

Spoon stuffing in the cavity and spaces between outer leaves of the artichokes with breadcrumb mixture, lightly packing it in.

Place the stuffed artichokes upright in a baking dish so they fit snugly; drizzle them with olive oil. Pour 1/2 inch of water into the bottom of the dish and add lemon juice. Cover dish tightly with foil and bake for approximately 50 - 60 minutes, until the base of artichoke is tender.

Artichokes may be served warm or at room temperature, perfect for a springtime appetizer. Serve with lemon wedges and a drizzle of olive oil.