by Loretta Gatto-White
Artichokes are actually thistles, having spiky leaves tightly arranged around a fuzzy purple, inedible inner choke. Their edible parts being the stalk to within two inches of the base or heart, the prized heart itself and the tender bases of the leaves, the exception being the very tiny tender variety, ‘baby anzio’ enjoyed whole in Italy in the spring. Many of the new world varieties are hybrids of Italian species and no wonder, Italians love them and have cultivated them for centuries.
In Italy, artichokes traditionally feature as part of the spring religious celebrations of Passover and Easter accompanying fish or lamb. One popular dish, Carciofi alla Giudia, (artichokes in the Jewish style), originated in Rome’s 16th century Jewish ghetto where the artichokes are cooked twice in olive oil; first to blanch, then to crisp them, the leaves of the heads opened -out to look like late autumn sunflowers. My lighter version of this dish omits the first blanching in oil, cooking them in acidulated water instead, then to make them crisp, the heads are fried in olive oil. If you use the large globe artichokes as the recipe indicates, you may serve them as a light lunch with dressed greens and some lemon garlic aioli on the side to dip the leaves, or if choosing a smaller variety, you can serve them as an antipasto, or a contorno on a platter with lemon slices, surrounding a roast of lamb.
Serve with white wines such as a brut Champagne, Prosecco and Chablis or if you are serving artichokes with a roast lamb, try Italian reds with a good balance of fruit and acid such as Barbero or Dolcetto.
*For more of my article on artichokes see the Feb/March (Toronto edition) of Panoram Italia at www.panoramitalia.com a free online Canadian magazine about living 'Italian-style'
|Carciofi alla Giudia by L. Gatto-White|
Carciofi alla Giudia
Ingredients: (serves four)
· 4 large globe artichokes
· 2 lemons
· Kosher salt and fresh pepper (to taste)
· 1 ¾ cups olive oil (not extra-virgin) or sunflower oil
Select a deep saucepan just wide enough to accommodate the artichokes. Fill halfway with cold water; add a half teaspoon of salt and the juice of one lemon.
Remove the first three rows of outer- leaves from the artichokes by pulling them downward, leaving their tender bases attached to the head. Then using a paring knife or scissors, cut off the dark green upper-half from the remaining leaves, rotating the artichoke as you go. Remove the top third of each head and the fuzzy inner choke with the knife or a grapefruit spoon. Peel the stalk up and over the base. Add each artichoke to the lemon water as you go, to prevent browning.
Bring the artichokes in the water to a steady boil. Cover the pot loosely. Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with paper towels and set a cake rack over it. After twenty minutes, pierce the base of a couple of artichokes with a fork, if it penetrates easily they are done, if not return to the boil and check at frequent intervals. When done they should be tender yet firm.
Place artichokes head down on the rack, squeeze each gently to remove excess water. Then gently spread their leaves open. Clean and dry the saucepan, add the olive oil and heat to 370 degrees. Using long-handled tongs, slowly place each artichoke head down in the hot oil, being very careful as the water retained in the artichoke will make the oil spatter. When crisp and golden, drain the artichokes on the rack. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper, serve warm with lemon slices.