Recipes from Rome: Learning to love artichokes
I know in New Jersey there’s probably still snow on the ground, but here in Rome, the weather is already getting better. As the days get warmer, I get fewer judgmental stares from old women who think I should zip my coat even though it’s 55 degrees outside. And with the change of temperature comes a change in the produce in the markets.
Rome’s markets make cooking so exciting. The other morning, I saw the first big, purple Roman artichokes of the season. They were a little early this year, but certainly welcome.
I may have squealed when I saw them, bought five, and then showed them to everyone I know. “Look at these artichokes!” I said to the woman who sells me bread every morning. “Beautiful,” she said as she gave me my change and stared at me quizzically. Let’s chalk it up to my imperfect Italian.
“In-season” artichokes are something you won’t see in New Jersey for a little while, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start thinking about all of the wonderful ways you can prepare them.
Rome is famous for its artichokes, and rightfully so. The most famous way they are prepared is “Carciofi alla Romana” and “Carciofi alla giudia.” Carciofi alla Romana (artichokes in the roman style) are stuffed and stewed with wild mint, pecorino romano cheese and garlic.
They are wonderfully soft and silky and are very common in Rome. Carciofi alla giudia (artichokes in the Jewish style) are somewhat less common, though still prevalent. These artichokes are smashed and deep fried, so the center is usually soft and the outer leaves become crispy and addictive, like artichoke potato chips.
Someone I follow on Instagram (@vinoroma) recently posted a brief “how to” artichoke post. The recipe was inspired by a restaurant in Trastevere, Rome — where I live — called Tavernaccia da Bruno, where they serve artichokes that are almost a combination of the two famous Roman artichoke preparations (Romana and giudia).
Quartered artichokes are fried in oil until crispy on the outside, then covered and steamed. The result is a crispy yet tender artichoke that is really delicious and really easy to make.
I feel like artichokes don’t get enough love. They’re an uncommon vegetable to make, especially for college students, but I think we should change that. Maybe people don’t want to buy them because they’re scary looking or because they think they’re hard to make. Invite your friends over for dinner, make artichokes and start a trend.
Serves 4 as a side dish.
1. Cut the two lemons in half and put them in a bowl large enough to hold the artichokes with cold water.
2. Clean the artichokes. This is the most labor intensive part. Start by snapping off the outer leaves, go around a few times until the leaves look more tender. With a sharp knife, cut about 1 inch off the top of the artichoke.
This part is a little tricky, but don’t fear. Hold the artichoke in your non-dominant hand so that the cut off top is facing you. Hold a small paring knife in your dominant hand and cut around the artichoke, like you are peeling it.
When you are done, it should look like a globe. If there is still a stem attached, peel it, but most American artichokes come with the stem cut off. As you cut the artichokes, rub them with the cut lemon halves. Also rub your fingers with the lemon, or they will turn brown.
3. Hard part is over. Promise. Quarter the artichokes, cutting them from pole to pole — from the top through the stem end). Once cleaned and quartered, let them hang out in the acidulated water for a bit.
4. Heat about one quarter in olive oil in a medium pan until shimmering but not smoking. Add a big pinch of salt to the oil, making a light layer on the bottom of the pan.
5. Add the artichokes to the hot oil with one of the cut sides down and don’t move them for a few minutes until they develop a nice crust. Once one side is browned, flip them to the other cut side.
6. Once the other side gets all brown and crispy, lower the heat and cover with a lid. Steam until artichokes are tender.