Archive for the ‘Tales’ Category
“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.
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 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. (more…)
Al dente, simply translates as ‘to the tooth’.
What it means is that the teeth should find some resistance to the pasta as they bite into it or chew on it. This also applies to vegetables.
In Italy, if you are served a plate of pasta, which is not ‘al dente’ or overcooked, you can send it back to the kitchen because Italians believe overcooked pasta is reeks havoc on your digestion.
Worse still, if you are cooking for Italians and send out some over cooked pasta, BEWARE. I once had someone poke his head into the kitchen I was working in and said “hey chef, I think that spaghetti was probably overcooked by half a minute” Leaving the pasta ‘al dente’ actually increases the complexity in flavours of a dish. Try it if you don’t believe me. Living in Italy has made me an ‘al dente’ snob. I won’t accept overcooked pasta anymore unless it’s cooked by my auntie who, at her age, has problems chewing.
My golden rule for cooking pasta ‘al dente’ is simple:
Be ready to serve 1 minute before the indicated cooking time of the pasta.
ie. If the cooking time for your pasta is 10 minutes, be ready to serve in 9 minutes.
Pasta keeps cooking after it is drained, while you add and stir in the sauce, while you serve it onto plates, while you sprinkle it with cheese, while you fuss around the kitchen, while you are making a toast with your guests. If you follow this rule, by the time you get to your first forkful of pasta, it should be perfectly ‘al dente’
Celebrating the Artichoke at the Sagre
In Italy a ‘Sagra’ is a celebration of food, usually a particular food. Here is a list of artichoke sagre (plural) around Italy. These events are a real mixed bag, some much more appealing than others. Some of the larger ones in bigger towns have had a tendency to explode out of proportion. Once you manage to find parking at these events, you will find dozens and dozens of market stalls which sell nothing but cheap ‘made in China’ type junk. Many other stands have nothing at all to do with artichokes. If you can avoid those ones, the remaining few sell fresh raw artichokes or you can try plenty of artichoke dishes prepared in heaps of different ways which will make the whole experience worth it. It’s always good to remember that there will be tasty morsels everywhere at hand and usually an area to have a sit down lunch or dinner. Obviously, each town has it’s own specialty and you should never leave town without at least trying some of what locals do best.
So which way to Ramacca?
When my Sicilian friend, Filippo, told me that I should try roasted artichokes I thought I shouldn’t miss a celebration in the proudest headquarters of this tradition, Ramacca. We (Alice and I) drove to Ramacca by taking a minor road winding through field after field of the locally prized artichokes, the Violetta Ramaccana. Driving into this hilly town for the annual Sagra di Carciofi (Sagra translates to festival), I was struck by the dilemma of trying to convey the unique aroma of smoke infused with olive oil and laced with a healthy suggestion of a small farming country town in the middle of Sicily. (more…)
“Italy is really like a great , mythological artichoke…a single
flower, green and purple, where each leaf hides another, each layer
covers another layer, jealously hidden. He who knows how to take off
the outer leaves will discover unimaginable things, in a difficult
voyage in time and space.”
Carlo Levi, Le Mille Patrie (Rome 2000)
The Artichoke Blog ©
Thanks for stopping and having a look. This blog will be dedicated to my scoping out of artichoke recipes, artichoke festivals over this coming Winter & Spring 2009 / 2010 season here in Italy. I’m living in Turin, in the north west of Italy. This city boasts about a lot of things, among these is the claim that Turin has the largest outdoor fresh produce market in Europe called Porta Palazzo markets. They are quite enormous, but as the claim to fame is that they are the largest outdoor markets, I’m supposing that somewhere in Europe there is a larger and possibly more impressive indoor market. That aside, Porta Palazzo markets are a great place to shop and watch the seasons change over the 2 years I have lived here.
There is a covered section of the market dedicated to the local farmers. Here you’ll find the same faces showing up on most days to sell produce they picked earlier in the morning. They serve you with mud encrusted hands and, for some of the older folk, with hunched over postures. Unfortunately, there are no local farmers who bring artichokes to sell until very late in Spring(if at all), which means that until May I can only source artichokes from the main open air market. This main area is dedicated to produce from all over Italy, Europe and in some cases imported from Africa and South America. When I’m not out of Turin looking for artichokes and artichoke recipes, this is where I will buy artichokes for the following 5 to 6 months.
Now, Autumn is well under way and although farmers in some parts of the country have to wait til later in Spring 2010 to harvest from older plants, some other farmers, who planted earlier this year, will be collecting their first harvest around now. This means that from now til around the middle of May 2010, we should see artichokes on the market stalls.
Yesterday I went to do some shopping and got there way too late. All the sellers had packed up and the stalls were being packed down. As I walked through to see if I could buy a bargain from any remaining seller, I saw something that took my breath away. On the ground was a loads of left over artichoke debris, bit and pieces, leaves and stems. This was the sign that got me motivated to start this blog the next day. From now til May or June 2010, this vegetable will follow me everywhere and I will follow it.
The Artichoke Blog ©