The Artichoke, Rome’s 8th King

I’ve given up trying to cook artichokes as sampled in Rome and I’m feeling very cross with myself.  I never fancied myself as a great cook but I am a fairly good one, but artichokes have beaten me.

I’ve always liked them but always bought them in tins or jars.  Then I went to Rome in May when the artichoke season was at its height and every restaurant and trattoria was serving them in ways I’d never even thought of and I OD’d for a week on this king of the vegetable world.  In fact, it’s called the 8th King of Rome in that city.

Artichokes and Wine, a Great Combination - Mari Nicholson

It’s scientific name is cynara acolymus and it was named after Zeus’s former lover who betrayed him and was transformed into a prickly plant in revenge, but its etymological root comes from the Arabic alkaharshῡf.  As it grew in popularity from being a food of the poor to one much sought after by the rich, it’s shape was appropriated by architects who used it to adorn various buildings, Chartres Cathedral being one.

The Italian artichoke usually has dark purple leaves and is eaten as an appetiser, in pastas, and as a vegetable with meats and fish.  It can be boiled, fried, roasted, steamed, sautéed, or marinated and I will gladly eat it any which way!  In Rome I usually had it “cariciofa alla giudia” which I was told is an ancient Jewish method from the 16th century and entails the vegetable being deep-fried twice.  That flavoursome oil dripping down one’s chin.  Decadent, I know, but delicious.

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Restaurant Window in Rome – Mari Nicholson

My favourite restaurant for this appetiser (I reckon 3 makes a good starter) is Trattoria da Giggetto to which the concierge at my hotel directed me, saying that it had been serving up the artichoke for three generations.  The secret, so the waiter told me, was to open the artichoke leaves like a flower and to cook it first in boiling oil before roasting it for a little and then deep-fryng again.  Labour intensive, yes, but sheer heaven when you taste it.

Deep Fried Artichokes a la Romana - Mari Nicholson
Deep Fried Artichokes, Decadent but Delicious – Mari Nicholson

I tried.  I deep-fried, then I roasted, then I deep-fried again and all I got was an oily vegetable that bore no resemblance to the ambrosia I had partaken of in Rome.  There’s only one thing for it.  I shall have to return next May and eat it every night as I did this year and try and wangle an invitation into the kitchen to see how it’s really done.

Prepared artichokes for sale in Rome market

Prepared Artichokes for Sale from a Stall in Rome – Mari Nicholson

 

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5 thoughts on “The Artichoke, Rome’s 8th King

  1. I’ read about the relationship to thistles, I wonder if thistles could be cooked to give nourishment? I must try them with garlic and butter (if I ever try to cook them again). Thanks for all the ‘likes’ you’ve added today – you’ve had a busy time reading – it’s much appreciated. I love your posts, I hope you don’t stop when you go off on your ‘big sail’.

    Like

  2. Such ignorance! My only experience of artichokes so far was to have them boiled, I assume and then to nibble off that tiny pale piece at the bottom of each leaf dipped in butter or something. However, in view of your cooking failures I shall have to wait until some enterprising local restaurant adds it to the menu.
    Seeing the botanical name reminded me of Cynar, a fabulous drink I used to love in Geneva, made from artichokes. Must Google it and see if it is available anywhere.
    Enjoyed the culinary journey,

    Like

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