Roman Style Artichokes (Carciofi alla Romagna)
People seem to be afraid of artichokes. They worry about how to eat them, how to trim them, how to cook them. Really, they are not any more difficult to handle and cook than anything else. Yes, it’s more work than, say, peeling a carrot, but it’s completely doable and so worth it. Needless to say I love artichokes and cook them in season (spring) whenever I can. I even wrote a post about artichokes that you can read here. Pablo Neruda wrote a poem about artichokes that I quote from in that post. He is one of my favourite poets and wrote poems about fruits and vegetables that bring them to life. He saw the humanity in everything.
Back to cooking. When it comes to Italian cooking you can’t go wrong when you consult one of Marcella Hazan cookbooks. Sadly, we lost her one year ago but clearly she lives on and continues to inspire aspiring and experienced cooks through her books and culinary work. Interesting enough she did not know much about cooking when she first got married but learned quickly and soon begun to teach cooking classes in New York where they lived, teaching the art of Italian cooking. One day Craig Claiborn called her and was casually invited to join her husband and her for lunch in their apartment. The rest as they say, is history. Once claiborne’s article appeared in the NYT, she never again had to be concerned about how to occupy her time.
The menu for that lunch, prepared for her husband who was coming home for lunch every day and for Claiborne, begun with the carciofi alla romana, artichokes served upside down with the stems pointed up, as she had learned to do in Rome. She learned the technique from a woman at a market in Rome and in her words “have never received better or more desirable instructions about any subject than what I was taught about the Roman way of cooking vegetables.” Interesting enough, she was taught how to make carciofi alla Romana as well as the Jewish version, carciofi alla giudia.
This is a very simple recipe where the artichokes are trimmed and then cooked in olive oil and a little stock or water. Cook them on low heat in a covered pan until they are tender and cooked through. They are served at room temperature with the sauce spooned over them, one artichoke per person. Marcella says that the best temperature is when the artichokes have cooled down with just a trace of warmth from the cooking. You can see Marcella’s original recipe in her book Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. The recipe is spread over four pages with illustrations of how to trim the artichokes. Here is my shortened version of her recipe.
4 large globe artichokes (the standard kind we find in stores)
1 lemon, cut in half through the middle
3 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
6-8 fresh mint leaves, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup olive oil
Enough stock or water to add to the oil to reach about one third up the artichokes. This liquid will reduce as it cooks and become the sauce you drizzle over the artichokes so don’t skimp too much, but don’t drown them either.
Fill a bowl with water and squeeze the juice of half a lemon into it. You will drop the trimmed artichokes into the water to prevent them from browning.
Cut the artichoke horizontally about a third of the way from the bottom.
Rub cut surface with the lemon.
Begin to trim the artichokes by pulling the outer leaves back until they snap.
Do not cut off the stem. Peel off the tough outer layer only, exposing the white flesh inside.
Continue to peel the leaves until you reach the light green leaves a few layers in.
Trim the darker green parts around the base of the artichoke. You should have only the edible white parts exposed.
Rub all the cut surfaces with lemon to prevent them from browning.
Now you need to remove the hairy choke in the center of the artichoke. Be careful because it can be thorny.
Use a spoon or a small knife to scoop out the choke, clearing the cavity inside the artichoke of all hairy and thorny bits.
Rub lemon over all cut surfaces and drop the artichoke into the lemon water until they are all done.
When you are ready to proceed remove the Artis from the water and dry with paper towels.
Combine the chopped parsley, mint and garlic. and add salt and pepper.
Rub about 2/3 of this mixture into the cavities of the artichokes and on the outside.
Pour oil into a deep pot or skillet that can hold the artichokes close together and bring it to a simmer.
Lay the artichokes, cut side down in the oil.
Arrange the lemons halves around the artichokes.
When the oil is hot add enough stock to come up about 1/3 up the artichokes and bring to a simmer
Cover and cook over medium heat (not too hot) until the artichokes are cooked through. You can pierce one with a knife to test if they are done.
As they cook you may have to add a little stock to keep the liquid from evaporating. Remember that this is your sauce.
Let the chokes cool in the liquid to room temperature.
To serve place one artichoke in each shallow bowl, spoon some of the sauce over and sprinkle some of the reserved parsley and mint mixture.
You can thank me later for bringing this recipe to your attention. It’s okay to soak up the sauce with a piece of bread.