Cheese and Herb Stuffed Artichokes

Oxford, despite being a rather famous and much visited city, doesn’t really have many good restaurants. At least, it didn’t when I lived there for a good five years and I haven’t really heard any news to the contrary since. Maybe I’m out of touch.

One diamond in the rough used to be The Magdalen Arms, a pub on Iffley Road, which served food that was everything pub grub should be but rarely is; un-fussed and generous, yet skilfully cooked. I remember a resplendent crab, nothing more than plunged into boiling water and served whole, ready to be worked over, the meat dipped in quivering mayonnaise. We sat in the sunshine and cracked, delved and mined its nooks and crannies for meat, rocking around in our seats on the back of copious amounts of rosé.

Another highlight was a stuffed artichoke, leaves splayed and crammed fat with goats’ cheese, herbs and breadcrumbs, shiny with olive oil. We teased away the leaves and sucked the creamy, intense stuffing from them. This was probably about 3 years ago and the dish still enters my thoughts occasionally, hence, this recipe.

Once the leaves are sucked clean, there is of course the sweet, soft heart to be had. A lovely, leisurely starter.

Cheese and Herb Stuffed Artichokes (serves 2-4, depending on appetite)

2 large or 4 smaller globe artichokes
1 thick slice stale white bread, whizzed into breadcrumbs
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small bunch parsley leaves, finely chopped
125g ricotta and 50g feta OR 175g goats cheese
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Zest of 1 lemon
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus one more for cooking

Snip the tips off the artichokes leaves and stems, turn them upside down and give them a good rap on the counter top to make the leaves splay out a bit. Give them a bit more encouragement to open up using your fingers, then keep them in a bowl of water with a squeeze of lemon juice. This supposedly stops them from going brown, although they always seem to do it anyway.

Prepare the stuffing by mixing everything together and adding some salt and pepper. Stuff the mixture into the gaps between the leaves then arrange the artichokes in a pan where they fit snugly, you don’t want them moving about in there. The advice is not to cook them in a pan made of reactive metal such as iron or aluminium, again because it makes them discolour although again, I find they do anyway.

Fill the pan with water so it comes about a third to halfway up the artichokes and add the other tablespoon of olive oil. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and put a lid on. Cook for 25 minutes, or until the leaves come away without too much resistance.

Allow to cool for 5 minutes or so, then serve. With napkins. Lots.

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19 thoughts on “Cheese and Herb Stuffed Artichokes

  1. Also ambivalent about Chiang Mai. I’m just not sure it’s that good. Sadly the Magdalen Arms is still pretty much the only great place to eat here (Sojo is a close second best).

  2. People either love Chiang Mai or are really ambivalent about it (I’m in the latter camp): I suspect it’s inconsistent rather than genuinely polarising. Otherwise I’d recommend Mario’s on the Cowley Road (excellent pizza…or you could get a takeaway from Il Principe which is almost opposite) or the Slovakian place, Moya, in St Clement’s. I’ve had good but not amazing meals at the various gastropubs.

    I like the look of the artichoke..I had a steamed one (only with hollandaise, though) recently for the first time and it was a revelation.

    1. This is a pretty simple way to cook them as you basically chip away at the leaves and then reach the heart. The hearts are lovely but you’re missing out on the leaves! Also, a nice simple way to do them is to cook them in simmering water, then dip the leaves in a vinaigrette or a pot of melted butter. Divine. Start with that if you’ve never had one whole – it’s a revelation! Also the hearts will be much tastier than those from a jar which can be a little musty, I find.

    1. Ha ha! I think they could hear that roar from The Old Kent Road, which is pretty impressive because I have no idea where you are right now.

  3. Is Peppers still going? I remember schlepping out to Walton Street when I was there (more years ago than I’m prepared to admit). I mainly remember it was enormous – not a bad thing. But I don’t recall going back.

    I haven’t been back to sample The Magdalen Arms but only hear great things about it. Must arrange a trip.

    The artichokes look fun. Will keep an eye out for them at the market. Is there enough cheesy goodness to mean you don’t need a wee dish of butter or hollandaise for dipping?

    1. There is enough cheesy goodness, although when I got to the heart, I wanted a dish of butter. Best to always have butter anyway, in all situations I say.

  4. These look ace. Will give them a go.

    Before the Magdalen Arms got taken over by the Anchor and Hope lot, it used to do 2 steak and chips for a fiver on Monday nights. Grim.

    I was partial to the twin Cowley Road peaks of Bodrum Kebab and Kebab Kid. Other than those, Chiang Mai was ok and SoJo on Hythe Bridge St pretty good. The Alpha Salad bar in the covered market was excellent.

    1. Jazysus!!! A fiver! HA HA. Yeah, that’s just…I don’t want to think about it. There was a kebab place on Cowley road I used to frequent, can’t remember for the life of me what it was called. We used to call it ‘Spicy Neville’. That wasn’t its name. The Alpha Bar was one of my favourite lunch places as I worked nearby. All those lush salads and then a MASSIVE SLAB of goats’ cheese on top.

  5. There really aren’t that many great places in Oxford are there? A couple of decent curry places… Chiang Mai is awesome though – I went back the other day for the first time in years and the steamed whole seabass is really quite something.

    Peppers is up on Walton St – I managed to fit in a trip there too and the burger, whilst a truly great example of the “kebab-shop” style, is not really what you’d call competitive in terms of London burgers of the last few years. They do have an amazing selection of sauces though, including the “White Shark” chili one.

  6. This looks delicious! Love messy food.

    Your intro about no good restaurants made me think long and hard, because I was sure I’ve had great food in Oxford. And the only memorable thing that came to mind was Peppers burgers. Yummm! (Though not exactly a sit-down-meal kind of place.)


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