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.
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.
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.
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 from a Stall in Rome – Mari Nicholson