The Artichokes of San Erasmo
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.
The next chokes that are cut from the plant are called Botoli. They are also small and tender but some of the outer leaves need to be removed as they are too tough to eat. In restaurants, these are sometimes passed off as Castroere. If a chef removes enough outer leaves, it could easily resemble a Castroere. I just nod and say, si si, hit me up for the extra cost, I still love them.
Lastly the plants produce what ends up being called carciofo, which is the regular artichoke. This is a slightly larger artichoke that needs to be cleared of external leaves and treated like a regular choke. Bitterness is a characteristic of this artichoke as they grow on an island surrounded by salt water. The soil is very rich in clay and mud with a high salt content. Although the area drains well, the closer to the water, the more clay the soil will have, which contributes to the bitter flavour.
Here are two dishes I had in Venice with Castroere.
One is a traditional Carciofi in Teja . Typical to the area and typically containing the usual suspect ingredients like garlic, parsley, white wine and olive oil. It’s served as a vegetable side dish in lots of restaurants in the city. I’ll make sure I post a recipe soon.
The other dish is a main course that you are most likely only ever to find in Venice as it has both the Castroere and the fondo / bottom. This dish came from Banco Giro restaurant on the Grand Canal. Both artichoke types are poached in a vegetable stock and served on a velvety puree of baby peas and topped with a few grilled scallops,Cocquille Saint Jacques.
Also at Banco Giro I tried the bigoli, the preferred pasta in Venice, which is similar to a very thick spaghetti. These were Bigoli di saraceno in salsa d’acciughe e carciofi. Buckwheat Bigoli in an anchovy and artichoke sauce. The anchovy has to be subtle so as not to completely hide the artichoke flavour, but not too sublte as to render the dish a little bland. Tough balance.
Tags: artichoke recipes, banco giro restaurant venice, botoli di san erasmo. san erasmo isola dei carciofi, Castraure di san erasmo, ricette carciofi, san erasmo artichokes, venetian artichoke dishes, venetian recipes, violetto di san erasmo