Winter Artichoke Salad

November 12th, 2009

Insalata D’inverno


When I shop at the markets I act a little suspiciously around the artichokes stalls. I stand next to older people, almost like a stalker, ready to pounce on them for a recipe. Overwhelmingly, when I do ask someone buying artichokes, how they are going to prepare them, they mostly say, ‘raw in a salad

So here’s a dish form Liguria which is quick, fresh, and healthy and uses all ingredients which you’ll find in season together.

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Al Dente – The Golden Rule

November 8th, 2009

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’

Calabrese Artichokes

November 8th, 2009

Carciofi alla Calabrese


This is a side dish from my home region of Calabria. It’s fast, easy and and like most food in Calabria, incredibly tasty. A dish like this will show those of you who think artichokes are too much work just how easy and how quickly you can get great results in half an hour. Get ’em while they’re hot.

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Artichoke Stuffed Involtini

November 8th, 2009

Beef Involtini with Prosciutto & Artichokes  / Involtini di Manzo con i Carciofi


When I tried this recipe for the first time I thought it was a bit light on artichokes. I will give you the traditional recipe and suggest a  way to up the artichoke pleasure. I had a few tries t this one before I could get it looking worthy of a photograph. Putting all these ingredients together is a pretty unbeatable combination. They can be prepared ahead of time and heated in the oven at the last minute before serving. Here’s the recipe

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Trimming the Artichoke Stem.

October 30th, 2009
Firstly, trim the stem at the base of the choke.

Before you begin with trimming, prepare a bowl of cold water with lemon juice.

You’ll need a sharp paring knife or a good quality vegetable peeler.

See here how to Prepare an Artichoke.

A step by step photographic set of instructions follows:

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Preparing and Cleaning an Artichoke

October 30th, 2009
begin by removing the outer, tougher leaves

Begin by removing the outer, tougher leaves.

work your way around the chokeWork your way around the choke.

the leaves will come without too much effort

The leaves will come away without too much effort.

keep removing the outer leaves til you get the more tender inner choke

Keep removing the outer leaves until you get the more tender inner choke. For recipes calling for the stem to kept in tact, you can peel the stem at this point.

trim the stem at the base of the choke

Trim the stem at the base of the choke or leave a little stem attached. That will depend on you.

keep the stem aside for further cleaning while you start trimming the artichoke

Keep the stem aside for further cleaning while you start trimming the artichoke.

Remove the tougher skin at the base. This is usually a deep green.

Remove the tougher skin at the base. This is usually a deep green.

Work your way all around the base.

Work your way all around the base. Kind of like peeling an apple.

Using a serated knife, cut off approximately 2/3 from the top of the leaves.

Using a serrated knife, cut off approximately 2/3 from the top of the leaves and discard.

Now you will have something that may look familiar. You will find this usually preserved although they are usually younger artichokes.

Now you will have something that may look familiar.

Cut this in half.

Cut this in half.

or into quarters

or into quarters

You will need to remove the inner hair. This is inedible and don't try eating as it will be a very unpleasant experience as they remain lodged in in your thoat.
When removing the inner hair from a half choke, use the point of a sharp paring knife or scoop it out with a teaspoon.

When removing the inner hair from a half choke, use the point of a sharp paring knife or scoop it out with a teaspoon.

Now you have a clean artichoke. You can use the half, the quarter or cut into slithers from here.

Now you have a clean artichoke. You can use the half, the quarter or cut into slithers from here.

See here  to Trim the stem.

Remember to put the cut artichokes into a bowl of lemon water straight away so they  don’t darken.

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Olive Leaf Pasta with Artichokes

October 29th, 2009

Foglie d’ulivo con carciofi – Olive leaf pasta with artichokes

pasta d'ulivo

This is the first dish I made this season. I invited a few people over before a movie and laid this dish out on the table to get the artichoke season rolling.
Foglie d ‘ulivo is simply a flat pasta in the shape of leaves from the olive tree. Any other flat, short pasta will be fine.

Here’s the recipe:

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Artichoke Varieties / Varieta’ di Carciofi

October 27th, 2009

1. Spinoso Sardo – AKA – Spinoso di Albenga

Sardinia, Liguria (Italy)

2. Spinoso di Palermo – AKA – Spinoso di Sciacca, Gela

Sicily, (Italy)

3. Verde di Putignano

Puglia (Italy)

4. Precoce Violetto di Chioggia – AKA – Violetto di Venezia

Veneto, (Italy)

5. Violetto di Toscana – AKA – Violetto

Toscana , Emiglia Romagna, Marche (Italy)

6. Moretto -AKA- Morello -similar to number 5

Liguria (Italy)

7. Verde di Castellammare

Lazio (Italy)

8. Verde di Pesaro

Marche (Italy)

9. Catanese – AKA – Violetto di Sicilia

(France, Tunisia, Algeria,Egypt,Israel, Italy)

10. Masedu – AKA – Liscio Sardo

Sardinia (Italy)

11. Mazzaferrata di Toscana – AKA – Testa di Ferro

Toscana (Italy)

12. Bianco Tarantino

Puglia (Italy)

13. A Pigna

Calabria (Italy)

14. Locale di Cuneo

Piemonte ( Italy)

15. Catalogna – AKA – Catanese & Molese tardivo

Puglia, Sicily, Basilicata (Italy)

16. Nostrano di Ascoli Piceno – AKA – Ascolano

Marche (Italy)

17. Violet de Provence -AKA – Violetto Francese

(France, Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Italy)

18. Violetto di Putignano

Puglia (Italy)

19. Violetto di Teramo

Abruzzi (Italy)

20. Precoce di Jesi

Marche (Italy)

21. Empolese -AKA- Nostrano tipo nero

Toscana (Italy)

22. Macau


23. Castellammare – AKA – Romanesco

Lazio, Campania (Italy)

24. Compagnano – AKA – Romanesco, Mazzaferrata

Lazio, Campania (Italy)

25. Romanesco a Bratee Violette – AKA – Romano, Campagnano

Lazio (Italy)

26. Mazzaferrata di Termoli

Abruzzi, Molise (Italy)

27. Blanco

La Plata (Argentina)

28. Sakiz

Irmir (Turkey)

29. Tudela

Alicante, Muricia, Rioja-Saragozza, Catalogna, Andalusia (Spain)

30. Escarot


31. Violet de Camargue


32. Nato

La Plata (Argentina)

33. Gros Camus de Bretagne

(Spain, Algeria, Marocco, Bretagne- France)

34. Camard


35. Bayrampasa


Source: A.C Castelli & C.A. Castelli, The Sensuos Artichoke – Magic of the Artichoke, Castelli & Castelli, 1978 -79, p40

The Artichoke Blog ©

Artichoke Cross Section Diagram

October 27th, 2009


Source: A.C Castelli & C.A. Castelli, The Sensuos Artichoke – Magic of the Artichoke, Castelli & Castelli, 1978 -79, p 29

Artichoke Celebrations

October 27th, 2009

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.

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Ramacca, Sicily

October 15th, 2009

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. Continue Reading…

A word from Carlo Levi

October 11th, 2009


“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)

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To the artichoke lover

October 10th, 2009

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.

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