A true classic, Maltese tuna stuffed artichokes (Qaqoċċ mimli bit-tonn taż-żejt). The artichokes are trimmed and filled with a tuna and herb filling for a gorgeous Mediterranean flavour, served with potatoes and fresh parsley.
In Malta we love our artichokes, in particular we love having them stuffed to the brim with delicious fillings. I grew up eating stuffed artichokes quite frequently and I am an avid lover of this dish. The recipe I’m sharing here is the one my mother used to make for me while growing up and how I still make them to this day. However, filling the artichokes with tuna isn’t done in every family.
As history tells, we, as a small island, got a lot of cultural and traditional aspects from our neighbouring countries or others who ruled us. For this reason, we took a lot from Italian cuisine and for this local dish you can find Maltese who stuff their artichokes with a breadcrumbs filling, as the Italians. Although, the difference is that the Maltese version contains anchovies so it’s not vegetarian friendly. I had both and they are both as delicious. Eventually, I will get to share more other artichoke recipes here, but for now I want to start with the one that feels more like home to me.
How to prepare your artichokes
Before starting the filling process of these artichokes, you need to prep them. When purchasing the artichokes, I suggest to look for the ones which are less bruised, have a brighter purple shade and are the most prickly. It might be painful so be careful, but the artichokes that prick the most are the freshest ones. When ready to cook them, start by cutting the stem and make the artichoke straight so that it’s able to stand on its own. Then remove any small and broken leaves from the bottom.
With a sharp knife chop the top part of the artichoke so to remove most of the inedible parts of the leaves, and you get a smooth straight artichoke top. This will help get more filling in the artichoke evenly. Afterwards, with a pair of kitchen scissors I snip away the prickly parts of the other leaves so that they are all straight. With some force I like to smash a bit my artichoke so that the leaves open up a bit. I run it under cold water for a good clean and lastly rub some lemon over the top so that it doesn’t brown while I fill them.
How to make these Qaqoċċ Mimli
Start by preparing the filling, simply chop all the ingredients and mix them together. Then, clean and prepare your artichokes and potatoes. Chop the stems of the artichokes and add them to tuna mixture. With your hands, or spoon, place generously the filling between each leave around the artichoke. Top the artichoke with more filling by pressing it gently to go down in the middle. For traditional stuffed artichokes, it’s important to stuff between each leave! This is what makes it different from other artichoke recipes, we like to stuff extremely well. When ready, in a large pot place the potatoes at the bottom and place the artichokes on top. Fill the pot with water, ideally until 1/4 of the artichoke. Cover the pot and let cook on medium heat for about 20/25 minutes. You will know that the artichoke is ready when the colour gets darker and leaves open slightly. You can also check if it’s done by inserting a knife to see how tender it is. If it goes in smoothly then the artichoke heart is cooked.
How to eat Maltese stuffed artichokes
Let’s get down on how to eat these artichokes. To an untrained eye they might be tricky to eat as there are several parts which aren’t edible, however, it’s truly easy and actually fun. Although, this isn’t one of the daintiest meal to eat, so be prepared for a bit of a mess.
To give you an idea, at home, I actually call them ‘karti tal-logħob‘ (playing cards) as while eating them it feels like you are trading cards during a game. First and foremost, get ready by having an extra empty plate next to you and plenty of paper napkins. Grab away each leave from the artichoke, making sure not to drop the filling, bring it to your mouth and with your teeth scrape away the filling and the bottom edible part of the leave. You can also dip the leaves in your favourite dipping sauce before eating! You will end up with a leave filled with scraped teeth marks!
Place the eaten leaves on the empty plate and repeat until you start reaching the centre. As you get closer to the centre, the leaves become softer; so much that you can almost eat the whole leave! Once you finish eating the leaves with the filling, you are approaching to the priced artichoke heart! This tender sweet centre is a treasure of deliciousness! Although to get to it, there is still some work to be done. The heart is topped with a thistle, called the ‘choke’, this part is inedible. It’s literally like fluff so I’m sure it won’t be pleasant to eat. All you need to do it simply scape it off with your hands or spoon and discard. You now get to eat the wonderful creamy artichoke heart! Success! You have eaten a whole artichoke.
What to serve with the stuffed artichokes?
In Malta, we tend to eat stuffed artichokes as a main dish and not as an appetizer. You get one or two artichokes with boiled or steamed potatoes, cauliflower, onions and carrots, everything drizzled with olive oil and parsley. All of this is accompanied with a fresh loaf of crusty Maltese bread. I like to serve my artichoke with a creamy sauce such as aioli, mayonnaise or a mayonnaise and mustard mix. Having a dipping sauce nearby makes great for any leaves which you might have missed while filling and for the artichoke heart!
Qaqoċċ mimli bit-tonn taż-żejt – Maltese Tuna Stuffed Artichokes
- 4 large globe artichokes
- 200 g tuna 2 cans
- 1 large white onion diced
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- 2 tbsp olives (green & kalamata) chopped
- 4 anchovy fillets chopped
- 1 tbsp capers chopped
- handful parsley
- few mint leaves
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp pepper
Cleaning and preparing the artichokes
- Prepare the artichoke by removing the stems and any small leaves which are bruised or too tough. Chop the stems and add them to the tuna mixture. Make sure that the base of the artichoke is flat and it can stand on its own.
- With a sharp knife chop the top part of the artichoke so to remove most of the inedible part of the leaves, and you get a smooth straight artichoke top.
- With a pair of kitchen scissors snip away the prickly parts of the other leaves so that they are all straight. Smash the artichoke on your working space so that the leaves open up a bit. Run under cold water for a good clean and lastly rub some lemon over the top so that it doesn't brown while you fill them.
Fill the artichokes
- Peel and chop the potatoes, place in a bowl of water and set aside.
- Chop all the remaining ingredients, and the artichoke stems, place in a bowl and mix. Set aside until ready to fill the artichokes.
- With your hands, or spoon, place generously the filling between each leave around the artichoke and top it off with more filling by pressing it gently to go down in the middle.
- In a large pot place the potatoes at the bottom and on top place the artichokes. Fill the pot with water, ideally until 1/4 of the artichoke.
- Cover the pot and let cook on medium heat for about 20/25 minutes. Serve the artichokes with the potatoes and any other steamed or boiled vegetables. Drizzle everything with olive oil and chopped parsley. Enjoy and don't forget an empty plate to dispose of your eaten leaves.
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