THE ARTICHOKE BLOG
Welcome to The Artichoke Blog
I have been writing about Italian artichoke recipes and artichoke festivals for a few years but lately have been preoccupied with many other things in life such as family and business commitments. I haven’t found a lot of time for the regular posting of late but plan to work harder on getting a book published. This blog will be updated with recipes and travel posts in the future when as I manage my new family and new business.
Please have a look around and drop me a comment anytime.
Here you are.
Palermo Street Artichokes
Carciofi Lessi Palermitani
As a teenager, Sicily was always the mythical headquarters for Italian mafia and the epicentre of the whole underworld was Palermo. So it was with great anticipation that I visited Palermo and got to roam the streets being wary that everyone you would encounter could have a connection to some guy called Leftie.
But the streets of this busy city is where life continues to be as rich as ever, especially with hidden markets and lots of local food sellers strewn throughout the crazy network of streets. I was particularly interested in finding these artichokes that are cooked on the roadside every morning.
There are usually a number of other cauldrons containing other vegetables like potatoes and carrots. Throughout the year, the coal coloured cauldrons are filled with different seasonal produce so it was important to visit Palermo during the artichoke season and sample what I thought was Sicily’s fast food from the street, with an ancient heritage.
These artichokes can be something to grab on the run and snack on while you sit in a park watching old men playing cards but that may seem odd, I’m not sure. The most common way the locals tell me they eat them is to take them home, cut them up, mix and dress them in a simple garlic and chili oil. These can be cut up with other boiled vegetables from the neighbouring cauldrons and you can have an instant family meal.
While I never had a kitchen while I was in Palermo I have waited til now to try out the most traditional preparation and worked on a simple variation with coarse breadcrumbs, which retains local authenticity and adds another texture to the dish.
There are three great things about the preparation of artichokes in this way. The first is that apart from a quick rinse with water, you do not need to prepare or clean up the artichokes in any way. The second is that all you need to do is salt some boiling water and throw them in for half an hour. And finally, most of the artichoke, including the whole stem is usually edible.
Carciofi Lessi Palermitani
4 cloves of garlic
1 large dried chili
1 handful of parsley leaf
2 handfuls if coarse breadcrumbs
extra virgin olive oil
Bring a large pot of water to the boil and salt generously.
Rinse the artichokes and place them into the pot and allow to boil gently for about half an hour on the back burner.
Peel the garlic cloves and gently squash them with the side of the knife. Drizzle a generous amount of olive oil in a pan. Place the garlic in and allow to heat gently in the oil.
Finely chop the dried chili and add to the oil with the garlic remembering that the chili seeds carry most of the heat, so go easy with the amount of seeds if you prefer it more on the mild side.
Heat this through the oil very gently until the garlic turns golden in colour.
Remove the contents from the pan into a bowl and set aside.
Remove the garlic form the oil and chop up finely and add back to the oil stirring through again.
Chop your parsley leaf and add some of it to the chili garlic oil and mix through.
Heat another drizzle of extra virgin olive oil in the same pan and heat moderately before adding your coarse breadcrumbs. Keep these moving in the pan by tossing or using a wooden spatula. They are ready when they begin to look golden and crunchy. Remove from the pan immediately to stop cooking and set aside.
Now you have two options to dress the artichokes with. One, oil based and the other with the addition of breadcrumbs.
When the artichokes are tender enough for the point of a small sharp knife to penetrate, turn the heat off and gently remove from the water.
Allow to drain and cool slightly for 10 minutes of so.
When they are cool enough to handle, gently squeeze the remainder of the water out of them. Once that is done, it is time to cut them in half (or quarters) on your work-bench.
Squeezing out the excess water.
Using a sharp chefs knife, cut exactly into half taking extra care to continue the cut along the entire length of the stem. If you prefer you can actually start cutting the stem down the middle and continue into the body of the artichoke.
Cut all the artichokes in this way and lay out open side up. They will still be steaming on the inside.
If the artichokes have the little hairy centre, remove this using a teaspoon or melon baller.
Now you have a cavity for your dressing.
You can choose to spoon in the garlic chili oil mixture into the cavity and also drizzle the surrounding petals or you can mix in the breadcrumbs with the oil and fill the cavity with this mixture.
Finally, sprinkle with a little more chopped parsley leaf.
You can pre-prepare the artichokes ahead of time and allow them to cool entirely.
Cut and prepare the same way but reheat in an oven at 180 degrees C / 355 degrees F for 10 minutes with a loose foil covering to ensure no further drying out of the artichoke flesh.
Arrange on a large platter and serve.
These are eaten petal by petal.
The Artichoke Blog
Pizza di Patate e Carciofi
This is not a dish commonly found in restaurants but more often prepared in homes and is as rustic as it gets. Sprucing up a dish like this to look fabulous is a challenge but the flavours and textures will not let you down. The southern Italian heritage comes through with the Scamorza cheese, which tends to resemble mozzarella but is firmer as it has less moisture. The flavour of Scamorza also has it’s own unique nuttiness and a pique that mozzarella does not. If you cannot find Scamorza at your deli, a good mozzarella will do but remember that Scamorza is saltier and earthier so the overall experience will be different. One thing to make sure of is that you do not have a punchy cheese that will compete with the artichokes for flavour. Scamorza is also stringy when it melts so you will get the same cheesy stretch when pulling it apart.
Ripieni di Salsiccia
There are some things that obviously do not translate from Europe to Australia. Winter is one of them. Sydney is in a climatically temperate belt and temperatures never dip as low as Europeans or most Americans would be familiar with during the colder months. I love that a European winter turns your apartment balcony into an extension of your refrigerator. Leaving milk on the outside windowsill is something I learned to do while living in Europe. This would definitely never happen in Sydney, Australia, where any food left outside of a fridge for a few hours will be approached with caution. Regardless of this, salami has to be made sometime, and it is the cold that determines when it should be done. In Italy my parents would customarily make enough salami for the year, plus a bit more. The period of Carnevale is the traditional time for slaughtering a pig and getting everyone on board to make the most out of every little bit of it.
This dish is really what started this artichoke obsession for me. My mother’s stuffed artichokes is a dish I always remember loving. It’s not just the flavour but just how fun they can be to eat. I remember the stuffing between the leaves being a real joy to savour and she made them so perfectly that the stuffing sometimes formed the shape of the artichoke leaf. You need to use your hands to get the most out of this dish and I love licking my fingers after a yummy meal. Do you?
“They’re a lot of work and people won’t drink.”
Blog refresher. If you haven’t read this blog before, about a year and half ago I met a guy in Foggia, Puglia who has the craziest, eccentric kitchen and a wonderful giving nature as a cook. His name is Zio Aldo and he has run a restaurant within the historical centre of Foggia since he retired as a youth worker. Not any old restaurant, mind you, but a den enriched with many stories, years of cultural tradition and an unreserved love of the local. I wrote a post about Zio Aldo and one of his recipes at that time.
I promised him the first time we met that I would revisit and he promised me a menu full of artichoke dishes. We alerted him to our descent south and this is where we headed mid spring along the coast from Le Marche, through Abruzzo, briefly skirted Molise and into Puglia.
“Don’t Call It a Comeback”
So many of you wanted to know where I’ve been for the past 5 months and I haven’t even had the chance to give you a reply. But finally I have seen the light and there are artichokes on the horizon.
The reason for my absence was caused by upheaval. The Artichoke Blog was created in Italy in surroundings that were geared towards fresh produce. It was natural to be cooking it, photographing it, traveling for it and of course eating it.
QUICK! If you’re in the southern hemisphere get to the markets quickly before the spring ends and some crucial ingredients disappear. This dish is a classic Sicilian plate originating in the west of Sicily. Late in the artichoke season throughout Italy, you will find fave beans being sold right next to artichokes, so it’s inevitable that they will find themselves in some recipes together. The further south you make your way in Italy you will see an increasing abundance of both artichokes and fave beans. The dish photographed above is from Trattoria Piccolo Napoli in Palermo A Slowfood listed restaurant specialising in seafood with a generous offering of vegetable antipasti and side dishes.
You may know fave beans as broad beans where you come from. Once they are removed from their pods they need to have their skins removed. (This is not absolutely essential and certainly wasn’t done in the past when every little morsel counted.) The easiest way to remove the skin from each bean is to toss them into boiling water for half a minute. Remove and refresh under cold water. You will notice the skin wrinkle and lift off the bean, which then can be easily removed with a knife or your fingers. You can also make this with dried fave beans which will need soaking overnight. It’s not the same as the fresh experience but the flavour is unmistakable. It’s also ok to use frozen peas but remember to halve the weight indicated in this recipe.
Carciofo di Pernaldo
Gastronomy and astronomy alike thrive in Perinaldo [MAP] it would seem. This is the birth place of the noted astronomer Giovanni Cassini, but I wouldn’t have known that if it weren’t for the artichokes and olives that attracted me there in the first place. Yet another small, hilltop town, this time in Liguria, and a must see if you ever feel like a drive down by the Italian Riviera. Continue Reading…
Where on the whole planet is it best to have good friends? The correct answer, hands down, is the Mediterranean island of Sardegna (Sardinia). Although it is part of Italy, they have the benefit of being a good distance from the nonsense of the mainland while they maintain strong regional culture and revel in the isolation. I once saw a map of Italy made by depicting the foods that most represent the different regions. In this map, Sardegna was simply a block of pecorino cheese and an artichoke. Although that may seem simple and superficial, there’s no reason to deny what they know how to do best.
How many places can boast a view of a sunrise over the sea, a view of snow-capped mountains and a lazy sunset of rolling green hills that seemingly go on forever? My guess is not many; but come to hinterland area around Montelupone (MAP) in Le Marche and you got all that plus a cute little ancient hilltop town to roam around in. If you time it right, you could be roaming around while they celebrate their annual artichoke festival, which had some pleasant little surprises for us.
Agnello Con i Carciofi
Alice and I sat a table at Trattoria Mario with red wine in our glasses, held high, toasting our last lunch at Mario’s…”for a while”.
We went to the cashier to pay our bill and after having already written a post on Mario, I remembered being told that I should make myself known the next time I was to visit.
I relayed my disappointment onto Fabio, at not having a chance to report on any artichokes coming out of their kitchen. He called out for his brother Romeo’s attention and asked “what can we make with artichokes for this guy?” A few tight Florentine phrases were exchanged between them and the response was “ Do you like lamb?
This is how much I liked the lamb.
“Come for lunch tomorrow, early. And we’ll make you the lamb with artichokes. It won’t be on the menu, we’ll make it just for you”
He made us an offer we couldn’t refuse.
Carciofo Moretto di Brisighella
Looking more like ammunition for a medieval catapult than an edible food, these particular artichokes were pretty much unknown of before about 10 years ago. Around Brisighella, (MAP) these spiky little buds have been able to make a home of the rough, uneven, hard clay terrain and eroded hills (called Calanchi). In this terrain they have been able to inhabit and thrive virtually as a wild thistle. Whoever it was that originally thought about them as a source of food must have had to undress them in the times before the modern day gardening glove.
Sagra del Carciofo Fritto
How many towns in the world can claim to be a one monk town? My guess is, not many, but Torricchio (MAP), just near Uzzano in the provence of Pistoia can, and it seems they are very proud of the monastery and the part it has played in the town’s heritage.
The tiny Uzzano town
On the face of it, this Sagra (celebration) is held by the monastery, but how can one aging Cappuccini monk organize such a massive party for the locals? These days the monastery lends the town it’s kitchens, gardens and dining areas where a feast can take place.
Artichoke Blog in Olive
The Artichoke Blog is featured in the June issue of Olive magazine.
For those of you in the UK, you can pick up the June, ‘Special Italian’ issue of the good food magazine OLIVE and please let me know what you think.
The Artichoke Blog
Dear Readers of The Artichoke Blog
If you are regular visitors to this site you may know I have been documenting the past artichoke season in Italy and have been traveling around Italy on The Artichoke Blog mission trying to post regularly to this blog.
There are still many posts to come about the 2009/2010 season but at the moment I am having a holiday in Turkey and cannot be regular with my updates for the next few weeks.
So here are just a few things to look forward to when I return from Turkey around mid June, 2010.
Another great meal and recipe from Mario Trattoria in Florence.
The Fried Artichoke Celebration of Uzzano in Tuscany
The beautiful town of Brisighella puts on a feast of its own thorny artichoke.
The famous street artichokes of Palermo in Sicily.
A sneak peak into a festival held in the hinterland town of Montelupone in Le Marche.
Putting the gloves on for these wild spiny Sardinian suckers.
The most adventurous savoury artichoke sorbet and gelato ever.
I hope that is enough to get you back here and keep checking out the latest posts on my obsession with artichokes in Italy.
The Artichoke Blog
Sagra del Carciofo Morellino, Riotorto May 1st and 2nd, 2010
Just outside the non-descript Tuscan town of Riotorto, in a public pine forest called La Pineta, is the biggest hoedown for artichokes on the Italian peninsula. At edition number 41 it is one of the oldest artichoke celebrations anywhere in the world. It will usually be held over a week and always reach critical mass on the weekend closest to the holiday May 1st. Riotorto produces it’s own variety of the Morellino artichoke, which is the most common of Tuscan artichokes.
Chiusure in Piazza in Primavera 24th – 25th April, 2010
How can such a tiny town put on such a big party? The roads leading into the Tuscan town of Chiusure MAP were lined with parked cars of springtime party goers, which made finding a spot to park, a little adventure and finished with a nice walk into town amongst olive groves. Over a weekend in late April the town, of only seven hundred inhabitants, holds an annual springtime festival called Chiusure in Piazza in Primavera (Chiusure in the Square in Spring) and it really is a great get together. It was the first time we had seen an actual groovy affair attended by lots of down to earth, young, mature hipsters and not dominated by families trying to find a way to keep their children entertained.
Carciofi alla Matticella, Velletri, 24th-25th April, 2010
On the outskirts of greater Rome and not too far from the wine growing district of Frascati are the hills known as Colli Albani. This is the home of the amazingly beautiful lakes of Lago Albano, Lago Nemi and the historic town of Velletri that hosts a unique little feast, over one weekend in late April, called Festa del Carciofo alla Matticella, which unlike other sagre or feasts, celebrates only one particular artichoke recipe, alla Matticella. We were lucky to witness this one as the rain had just cleared to make way for the outdoor cooking to proceed. A great night for the visitors to Velletri and certainly one I would love to revisit.
Festa del Carciofo di Paestum 22nd-25th April, 2010
Paestum is an ancient Greek coastal town about 80km south of Naples with a surrounding area partially devoted to the cultivation of their Carciofo di Paestum (Paestum Artichokes). Most of the fields we occasionally saw as we drove into town were full of plump purple buds floating above a mass of green foliage.
The White Artichoke of Pertosa
Who said old-fashioned hospitality was dead? In Pertosa Alice and I were treated to a day of the most enthusiastic generosity you could imagine. We were greeted by the young and energetic Giuseppe Lupo who, among many things, acts as the local councilor for agriculture in his hometown.
Sagra di Carciofi Sezze, 18th April, 2010
Just under an hour by train south of Rome, Sezze (MAP) is a solitary hilltop town set on the highest point of a ridge surrounded by fertile plains which are home to a vast number of artichoke fields. Nestled in amongst the modern town is the historic centre with its long, narrow and tangled streets. It’s a typical or rather stereotypical old Italian town with cobble stoned paving, stone buildings and old, grey haired ladies peering out through doorways at all the curious visitors roaming the streets on days like this one when it hosts the Sagra of the local Artichoke.
This sagra was held on Sunday, 18th of April on the same weekend as the festival in Ladispoli. If you have to choose between the two, I would absolutely recommend this one as it was all about the artichoke and nothing else. On the day the streets are lined with stalls selling cute little handy crafts or artisanal foods like salami and cheeses. Some stalls promote and sell the local artichoke called carciofo setina or, as the locals say, carciofolo sezzese.
Sagra del Carciofo Romanesco, Ladispoli
This town boasts the largest artichoke celebration in Italy but I’m here to dispute that claim on the basis of irrelevance. I was thinking that just like an artichoke, 80% of it (the festival) is made up of stuff you can do without and you have to work hard to get to the end (of the street) till you get to the heart where the true prize is.
Ladispoli is a seaside town about 45 minutes by train from Rome. One of those towns that definitely looks better at night and certainly takes on a much more appealing atmosphere once the sun has set.
Sorbetto di Carciofo
Cerda is a remarkably un-picturesque Sicilian town in the middle of some of the most stunning Italian countryside you are likely to find. A little deviation off the main highway will wind you through a hilly green terrain, with gigantic rocky outcrops and cliffs towering above cloud level.
- The spring crop.
Carciofi alla Calabrese da Zia Eleanora
As I leave Turin and start a pilgrimage to many Artichoke festivals which all happen in this part of the season, I need to visit a few relatives and deal with the pleasantries. Zia Eleanora; this auntie is well know within the family for her cooking so I turned up to her place with ten artichokes in hand and asked if she could show me a recipe. She said this one was just one of many artichokes recipes she has in a recipe book kept in her head which is very protective of.
Insalata di Carciofi da Mammalicia
Whenever friends come to Turin, we always make sure we have dinner at a trattoria called Mamalicia. An inviting restaurant with a big history and eclectic décor where once you sit down you begin to notice details that point towards a rich and eventful past.
Mamalicia is run by one of Turin’s Grandi Chefs (top chefs), Maria Buzzi and her small crew of dedicated staff. Maria’s vision is to maintain the integrity that was built up in Mamalicia’s heyday during the 60’s and 70’s. Just as the name suggests, the restaurant was originally in the hands of a lady known as Mamma Licia who, in the 50’s, started the humblest of eating spots. Family operated for over four decades, the dining room was dominated by one, long, central table, where diners would sit together for a single sitting, and be served an entrée, main, cheese, fruit and wine for 1000 lire (less than 1 Euro).
Pasqua = Easter or Passover. The name of this torta embodies the time of year when you’ll generally find it. I’ve honestly never seen one on a menu but it’s one of those dishes that you hear more about people making in the home.
They don’t come much more traditional than this one but whenever you ask around about traditional dishes you can expect some contention. This dish is typically made with leafy greens and not artichokes therefore many people think that the real Torta Pasqualina does not include artichokes. On the other hand there is another camp that believes that the original recipes calls for artichokes but they were replaced in an age when they were beyond the affordability of most people so the recipe changed to include a cheaper vegetable.
Spritz al Cynar
I came to live in Italy prompted by a work stint in Venice during the summer of 2005. It was the first time I had stayed in Venice for an extended period and also the first time I was introduced to Spritz. Actually it was the first time that I understood how to truly enjoy alcohol, as Venetians are known to be the tipplers of Italy, I began to see the attraction. As you cruise around Venice in the afternoons during the warmer months, you will notice mostly orange and red drinks sitting on the tables of the open air bars.
Carciofi Ripieni alla Genovese
Spring has most definitely sprung and with it comes marjoram, a welcome partner for artichokes and other spring vegetables that have begun to appear at the fresh produce markets. When you cook this dish you can expect your kitchen to fill with the fantastic fragrance of marjoram baking in the oven. This will be enough to stimulate your appetite into a slight frenzy as you wait for it to finish baking.
Spaghetti alla Chitarra con Carciofi e Bottarga
Stepping back into the Ghetto of Rome for this recipe and back to La Taverna Del Ghetto where they have artichokes in some key signature dishes. This is a dish that you’ll find repeated in varying forms around the country from Sardegna to Liguria, Venezia, Puglia and Roma. The key ingredient is fish roe served with artichokes and some form of pasta. It is often found with the hand made pasta varieties of tagliolini or spaghetti alla chittara.
Caponata di Carciofi
Mention the word Caponata and I think most Italians will begin to salivate.
Firstly, the name immediately evokes a sense the south and Sicily in particular. Caponata is traditionally a large combination of ingredients tossed together and the most traditional of all is the Caponata di Melanzane, or Aubergine Caponata, Eggplant Caponata. But Sicilians certainly boast some of the best artichokes and most interesting artichoke dishes in Italy and they can easily replace the aubergine with the addition of tomato, onion, olives and capers, to make the artichoke equivalent of the traditional Caponata.
Lasagne ai Carciofi
Making pasta is something that I took for granted as a child. In fact I almost found it a chore to help my mother as she rolled the pasta through the machine, sheet after sheet. It never seemed to stop because if you’re making pasta, you don’t just make some for one meal, but enough for a few dozen meals. And if you’re like my mum, you also make enough for the neighbours and to give to friends so the quantities were out of proportion for a young child.
I seem to remember it would always be on a Saturday afternoon that the table in the spare room would be cleared and dusted with flour. Wet cloths covered freshly kneaded pasta dough while it rested. I was called in to help when it came to the rolling, cutting and hanging. Broomsticks would be placed to rest horizontally between the table and chairs so the freshly cut pasta could be hung to dry. The one thing I do remember enjoying, apart from eating the pasta, was making my own pasta shapes from left over scraps of dough, a sort of maltalgliati.
Totani Ripieni ai Carciofi
The first time I heard about calamari with artichokes I thought it was a little strange. For me there didn’t seem to be a natural affinity between coastal food and this vegetable. Being predominantly surrounded by water and having artichokes growing in most of the country, this natural affinity is something I hadn’t seen until I went to the hilltop town of Perinaldo in Liguria.
This dish comes from Liguria and is the perfect light starter or by bumping up the portion size, could make a main meal. It goes well served with a fluffy, long grain rice. I played around with the styling of this dish for this post so you can choose whatever you feel appropriate.
Perinaldo boasts one of the only two Slowfood listed species of artichokes in Italy and most of the town has sea views so it makes sense that they have a traditional dish with seafood and artichokes. I will post some photos and write a little more about Perinaldo and the artichoke celebration/sagra I visited there, so stay tuned.
Torta Rustica di Carciofi e Ricotta
I’m going to make a sweeping generalisation here and say that like most Italian migrants, I grew up with a wood fired oven in my parent’s backyard. Certainly, many of the people from the same villages as my family baked their own bread and would occasionally bring some around to our place as a little gift. It was always interesting to try bread made by other hands as it could be lighter, saltier, more dense, crispier or darker than the bread my parents would usually turn out.
Regular bread making would always happen in the shed at the very back of the garden. Most of the hard work of mixing and kneading by hand happened in the small hours of the morning while I was tucked away in bed. This was a good time to get the oven up to temperature, making most of the smoke before neighbours woke up and began hanging their washing out. By the time I was up and about there would be at least twenty loaves already baked and the neighbours would have already been handed a couple of loaves over the fence by my folks.
Sarde al Forno Con Carciofi
In an earlier post I mentioned a recent trip to Puglia in southern Italy where I met Aldo in his beautiful trattoria. He invited me back to have a night in his restaurant and celebrate with a full selection of artichoke dishes on his menu. I’m going to be heading down there in late April to help him out in the kitchen for a couple of days and try to record as many recipes as he throws at me.
This recipe comes from Puglia known for its its rich and fertile agricultural terrain, producing the largest amount of olive oil and vegetables (including artichokes) in Italy. It is also blessed with some of the most stunning and unspoiled coastline remaining in the country and so boasts a healthy presence of fish and seafood on menus but I’m not sure that this dish is in Aldo’s repertoire as he is not a coastal dweller.
Farinata ai Carciofi
There are somethings that easily get lost in translation so it’s better not to attempt to translate farinata. It is called different things in different places, such as Cecina or Torta di ceci in Tuscany but I will refer to it as Farinata as it is most widespread in Liguria.
Farina is the Italian word for flour, and in this case it’s chickpea flour. Farinata closely resembles pizza and is usually eaten as stand up, casual finger food.
I first saw farinata on the Italian coastal stretch of the Cinque Terre in Liguria and it was love at first sight. You can walk between the five coastal towns and stop off for a serve of farinata at each if you really felt like it. This kind of behaviour might be a bit obsessive but it has been known to be done, just so one knows where to find one’s most preferred farinata on one’s next visit to Cinque Terre. (For my money it’s the upper most shop on the hill in Rio Maggiore).
Crespelle di Saraceno con Crema di Patate e Carciofi
Weather: Cold, wet and windy.
Mood: Tired and hungry.
Thoughts: Eat anywhere that is open.
In the Santa Croce area of Florence there are plenty of restaurants, bars and caffés to choose from but two days before Christmas, lots of them have sealed shutters making options pretty limited. The streets were vacant and quiet, and on a cold wet night all you really want to do is be inside as cozy as possible. Gauging a restaurant by peering through its window is a skill you either have or you don’t and it’s always an awkward feeling trying to back out of restaurant you have entered and then realise that maybe it’s not where you want to spend a few hours, especially if you have already been seated. Fortunately we stumbled upon Boccanegra which, even from across the road, with its wooden exterior and handsome signage appeared welcoming and warm. With a quick peek, it seemed that we could really have a nice relaxed dinner under a very homely candlelight, surrounded by an extensive wine collection sprawling through the two wooden and stone dining rooms, and alongside a hip Florentine clientele being served by groovy looking waitstaff.
One great thing about visiting these major cities at this time of year is that they are not swamped by tourists. You really do have more of the city to explore as you won’t need to line up at museums that would usually have you spending at least 4-5 hours of your time queuing. So you gain all this time to enjoy the city and fit in a couple of extra features that summer visitors normally can’t. There is one place that will usually have a queue no matter what time of year, It’s a tiny little institution for lunch a few steps for the central markets (mercati centrale di San Lorenzo) called Mario. Every Florentine knows about it, and the astute tourist will do their best to find out about it. It’s hit or miss whether you will find any artichokes on the menu but that shouldn’t stop you from having lunch there. They aren’t open at dinner so you need to schedule carefully between museum or church visits.
Risotto in Florence
A quick stop in Florence. We arrived early in the morning and had a tight schedule for the following 36 hours. In eating terms, that’s two lunches and one dinner. Breakfast always seems to be a stand up coffee and croissant so they don’t count.We lived in Florence for a year a while back so navigation was not a problem in terms of finding the right places to hit for lunch. The first stop was at Nerbone which is an institution in the central food markets (mercati centrale di San Lorenzo)of the city. Cheap, fast but you have to get in quick or be patient and wait for a cold, hard, metallic seat to free up. You order cafeteria style, taking a tray from the counter to share a table with a mixture of locals who know where to get a quick, quality lunch, and curious tourists visiting the food markets for the first time.
Carciofi alla Giudea / Artichokes Jewish Style
Carciofi alla Giudea rolls off the tongue a lot easier that Artichokes Jewish Style so I will refer to them by that name in this post.
Now if I had to name my all time favourite artichoke dish, this one would have to be in the top two or three to choose from. Even though I don’t have children, I reckon they’d be a hit with the kids. The leaves become golden and crunchy and are fun to eat, kind of like eating potato crisps. You can work your way around the crispy leaves of the artichoke until you reach the soft tender heart. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t loved these artichokes. They are absolutely unique and instil excitement and curiosity into the eating experience, (or maybe that’s just me).
We start in Rome.
When in Roma, eat artichokes alla Romana or alla Giudea. You wont regret it.
Alice and I had a Chrismas holiday together with Alice’s brother, Chris. He’d never been to Italy before so we showed him around Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan and Turin. I never get tired of going back to these places. There is always more to explore and discover, especially on a culinary level.
For our first lunch we were directed to Da Tonino, (Via del governo vecchio, 18, 00186 – Roma (RM) Italia Cell.333 5870779 )MAP
A hole in the wall kind of establishment which served good, honest and generous portions of flavoursome food. In some respects, this first lunch of my holiday was the most memorable, even more than our Christmas lunch. I have simple tastes and I’m a total sucker for food without pretense. I do appreciate talented chefs experimenting with new fusion of flavours and skillfully presenting dishes, but the simple, the rustic, the humble and the down to earth gets me much more excited.
Violetto di San Erasmo
I went to San Erasmo in the late Spring 2009 to check out the artichokes of the island. The island is a 30 minute ferry ride from Venice. It’s a pretty sleepy little place with no discernable tourist attractions or facilities. I took a walk around the island asking different artichoke growers about their local speciality and taking photos of their plantations. Called Violetto di San Erasmo, this artichoke is legendary and has been grown on the island for a couple of centuries. Some plants on the island are over 100 years old and a plant can produce about 100 artichokes over the season. They are only one of two artichokes to be listed as a Slowfood Presidium. This means the growers on the island band together with Slowfood® to set the guidelines ensuring that the authenticity of this ancient and prized artichoke is maintained.
The plant produces three different artichoke buds that are picked. First is the Castroere, which is a very small tender first shoot They are quite rare as every plant only produces about 2 or 3. They are highly prized and they sell for about €1.50 each. They are so tender they can be eaten raw and are preferred that way although they are sometimes fried. The name Castroere derives from word to castrate, so imagine castrating the young bud at around Easter and you have this artichoke.
Bruschetta con Carciofi
Let’s get one thing straight. Firstly Bruscetta is pronounced, /brusketa/ and not, /brusheta/. I just had to clear that up. Bruschetta is simply toasted or roasted bread, with garlic, olive oil and salt. That’s it. When you start adding anything on top of that it becomes, Bruschetta with …
In this case I am posting two recipes for Bruschetta with artichokes. One is really easy and flexible which I think is pretty good and fuss free. The other is the very traditional Tuscan recipe. The first is completely dairy free, which I prefer, but the Tuscan one is great in it’s own way which I never refused to eat while I lived in Florence.
Carpaccio di Fondi
While I still have a few fondi left in the fridge, I thought I could get a quick carpaccio together. Carpaccio usually refers to thinly slice beef that is dressed with Parmiggiano shavings, olive oil and lemon juice. In this recipe, it is the artichoke that is finely sliced and I’ve dressed it with lemon juice, olive oil, capers and shaving of a hard, matured goat cheese. This is an elegant starter which is easier than easy to prepare. People are easily impressed if you present them with a unique raw artichoke dish like this.
Fondi di Carciofi alla Veneta
These are the artichokes you’ll find all over Venice. They are known as fondi and Venetians can’t get enough of them. Fondi is the plural of fondo which means ‘bottom’ or ‘base’. Seeing as though one would never really deal with a singular fondo, all you need to remember is the plural, fondi. They are quite exquisite and the way they prepare them in Venice is by far the easiest artichoke dish on this site.
In Venice this is the artichoke of choice. You will see them at nearly every fruit and vegetable stall soaking in lemon water. They are all ready to go, no peeling, cleaning or anything is necessary. That’s one reason I love them. This is a dish you will find in all of the ciccetti bars and on most menus of Venetian restaurants.
Artichokes ready for the chop. Artichoke bottoms (fondi) sitting in lemon water
I just got back from 2 weeks in Venice. This obsession with artichokes started in Venice where, in the most part, they don’t even worry about the leaves and go straight to the heart. Here they use the fondi (bases) of the artichoke. Some artichokes are left on the plant a little longer than usual just for this purpose. Although I’ve never seen a Californian artichoke in the flesh, I think they are probably suitable for this purpose too. The most typical recipe and traditional way the Venetians use these fondi is to simply boil them and dress them with olive oil garlic and parsley. They can be served hot, warm or cold. You will find them on most restaurant menus and also at cicchetti bars. Cicchetti are small portions of food, usually eaten standing at a bar anytime between breakfast and dinner. Cicchetti are similar to the Spanish Tapas and can be had as an entire meal or as a snack between meals.
Carciofi e Coniglio
Alice and I had been expecting a visit from a dear friend, Giuseppe from Florence who we hadn’t seen for over a year. The big news was that he recently became a dad, so we invited him along with his partner Angela and his 2 month old son, Raffaele over for dinner when they were in Turin. I really wanted to put on a nice dinner for him particularly because I know how tough a critic he is with cooking and I always fish for a compliment from such a tough customer. Continue Reading…
Osteria da Zio Aldo and his Fried Artichoke Recipe
Last week I went to Puglia for what turned out to be a little misadventure. I went down for the San Ferdinando Fiera del Carciofo /Artichoke Fair. It turned out that there were no artichokes being cooked but only being promoted. I was pretty disappointed as it was a seven hour train ride to the other end of Italy from where I live. The train ride was not at all disappointing, it was stunning countryside and seaside and well worth it. I must say though, that San Ferdinando was not what I thought it was going to be and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, anytime. I used the opportunity to meet a few locals who knew a few things about artichokes and one guy who is worth a mention is Zio Aldo. Continue Reading…
Artichokes in Naples
This is the first Artichoke dish I found in Naples. It’s a side dish, which is very simple and full of flavour. All you need is a few ingredients you’re already likely to have in the fridge. The true Neapolitan recipe calls for green olives. The dish presents a lot better with green olives rather than the black, which I have used. Either way it’s a tasty treatment of the artichoke.
It only take about 30 minutes from the time you start preparing to the time you’re devouring. They can also be served cold which makes them fantastic as an antipasto which you can prepare ahead of time. Read on for the recipe
Barchette di Carciofi con Mozzarella e Spinaci
Straight from the south of Italy, this is an awesome entree or side dish. Ideally served straight out of the oven and drizzled with a little olive oil. They are quite a pretty looking artichokes and the way they turn into little containers of tasty goodness is a fun feature. Here’s the recipe.