Few vegetables are as revered in Roman cuisine as the artichoke. Late February marks the start of the artichoke season in Rome, and the lovely thistle vegetable makes its appearance in fruit and vegetable markets and on menus across the city. The variety of artichoke found around Rome and throughout the region of Lazio is called the Romanesco, notable for it’s green and purple hues. It is more tender than the artichokes we’ve been able to find here in the States, but we make due.
In Rome, artichokes are prepared in one of two ways: alla giudia, or Jewish-style; and alla romana, Roman-style. In carciofi alla giudia, the artichoke is deep fried to a savory crispness. Too cumbersome to do at home, carciofi alla giudia are on the menu of every Roman trattoria, especially those found in the historical Jewish ghetto neighborhood.
An easier recipe to prepare at home is carciofi alla romana. In this recipe, the artichokes are cleaned, stuffed with a mixture of garlic, parsley, mint and breadcrumbs, and then braised in olive oil and water until tender. Intended as a side dish, these roman-style artichokes steal the show every time.
4 globe artichokes
1 clove garlic
2 Tablespoons of flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
2 Tablespoons of mint, chopped
50 g (1/4 cup) Bread crumbs
1 dl (1/2 cup) olive oil, plus a few tablespoons extra.
Clean the artichokes by removing the tough, outer leaves until you get to the tender part of the artichoke, notable by the soft yellow coloring at the base of each leaf.
Open up the artichoke and remove the choke, or the fuzzy white part. Chop off the longest part of the stem, leaving about 5 cm (2 inches) of it. Use a paring knife to clean the remaining stem by stripping away its outer layers.
Squeeze the juice of one lemon into a bowl of cold water (the lemon keeps the artichokes from turning brown), and let the artichokes bathe.
In the meanwhile, chop the garlic, mint and parsley. Mix the garlic and herbs together with the breadcrumbs and a pinch of salt. Add just enough olive oil to form a paste.
Remove the artichokes from the water. Using a small spoon, stuff the breadcrumb mixture into the center of each artichoke.
Salt the outside of the artichokes. Place each artichoke head down into a saucepan. Pour the olive oil over them, and let them cook for a few minutes over medium heat. Add water until the artichoke bulbs are half-submerged.
Cover, and cook over medium heat for approximately 30 minutes. Check them for tenderness by piercing them with a fork. Allow them to cook a little longer if necessary.
Serve your carciofi alla romana with a little of the cooking liquid spooned over them. A local wine, like Tenuta Pietra Porzia Regillo Frascati Superiore, pairs well with this regional artichoke dish without overpowering its nuanced flavors.