Fried, pickled, in salad or alla romana, artichokes are irresistable however they are prepared
I’ve always loved artichokes – even when I was a picky eater, who shunned vegetables, despised “wet meat” and was convinced that cookies tasted worse when they were broken. Artichokes were one of the few typically Italian foods we ate in a very un-Italian way. My mom rinsed them, cut off all but a few inches of the stalks, and boiled them in water with a couple of cloves of garlic and some lemon slices, until the stalks were tender. Then, we would strip off each leaf, dipping it into melted butter, or, if I was really lucky, a sauce made from mayonnaise, olive oil, lemon juice and dill, before scraping off the tender pulp with our teeth. It was a vegetarian equivalent to oysters on the half shell.
I’ve never seen anyone dip veggies in melted butter in Italy, although food traditions are so varied here in the dairy lands in the North of the Boot, someone might be doing it. And, dill (“aneto”) was impossible to find here until just a few years ago. I presume that the influx of people from Eastern Europe must be changing this. Come to think of it, the lack of dill must also explain why those wonderful, king-sized pickles they sold at Italian markets in the US when I was young can’t be found in Italy.
In Rome, artichokes are king. They are everywhere, especially in spring. Carciofi alla Giudea – entire deep-fried artichokes most famous in the Ghetto, and in Trastevere, but popular everywhere are among my favorite. They sure know how to use a deep-fryer in the Eternal City! Linda, my mother-in-law has a talent for artichoke wedges fried in her special batter. They are a mainstay at our Easter Monday picnics. Silvia simmers artichokes, chopped up and mixed in with potatoes, for hours. And, diced pickled artichoke can make the difference between a tuna salad sandwich and an elegant carciofo e tonno tramezzino.
If you want to capture the essence of artichokes in Rome – or anywhere, for that matter– try one of the many variations on “carciofi alla romana”. There are many recipes out there – even my friends in L’Aquila have slightly different ways of preparing them. So, once again, I’m turning to Marcella Hazan, whose cookbook The Classic Italian Cook Book, first published in the early seventies, saved my culinary life when I moved to Italy in 1989 – and many times afterwards. The following recipe – reprinted by Elaine of “The Italian Dish” (http://italiandish.squarespace.com), one of the best Italian food blogs I’ve ever seen – is simple in both ingredients and description. I strongly suggest reading Elaine’s article before trying it. In part because she wrote a wonderful introduction to Marcella Hazan and how these artichokes were part of the perfect Roman lunch, but mostly because the photos she has included make it almost impossible to mess anything up.
“Roman Style Artichokes – 4 servings
- 4 large globe artichokes with stems attached
- 1 lemon
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped flat leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped mint
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- salt, pepper
- 1/2 cup olive oil
Bend back and snap off tough outer leaves from artichokes, pulling off enough leaves until you expose the central part of the artichoke with whiter leaves at the base. Slice off tops and then squeeze some lemon juice over the cut parts, so they don’t turn so brown. Using a paring knife, cut out the hairy choke inside the artichoke. Trim the sides of the artichokes of any tough green parts. Trim the end off stem and then, using the knife, trim the tough green outer part of the stem. Rub with lemon.
In a bowl, combine the parsley, mint, garlic and salt and pepper. Rub the mixture into the artichokes and over the outsides of the artichokes. Set the artichokes, topside down with stems facing up, into a pot with a lid. Add oil and enough water to come one third up the sides of the leaves (not the stems).
Cook over medium heat until artichokes are tender, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer artichokes, stems up, to a serving platter, reserving juices. . Let cool to warm or room temperature. To serve, drizzle the pan juices over artichokes.”
The article and the crisp photos that walk you through it all can be found here:
In the end, carciofi alla romana (Roman-style artichokes) are easier done than said. Most classic Italian food is much easier than you would expect; the hard part is finding the best ingredients outside of Italy.
Carciofi alla romana can be served both warm or at room temperature, as a contorno (vegetable dish) or as an antipasto.
– Joshua Lawrence
For those of you reading this on Facebook or elsewhere, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com