Friday, April 11, 2014

Roman Artchichokes--Best in the World

When I ask myself what the culinary hallmarks of Rome would be, two vegetables always come to my mind: agretti and artichokes. Agretti, a unique sour vegetable similar in its look to seaweed and in taste to sorrel, is not much known even outside Rome and not available in my part of the US. Artichokes fortunately are available almost all year round so, today, I would like to talk about a Roman artichokes dish.

I have been experimenting with artichokes for quite some time and have been more or less successful with different recipes. But only once I ate Roman artichokes I fully understood their wonderful taste and fell in love with them forever. They became my favorite artichokes dish.

First, I tried famous Jewish artichokes in the Roman Ghetto's highly recommended restaurant Da Giggetto. Fried artichokes were delicious and a lot of fun, as I had to find my way of eating them , sucking on partially fried, partially soft leaves.

Second time I had Roman artichokes, my host, my friend's Mom, prepared them for me, showing me each step of the process. She bought these artichokes at her local market where a vendor had already prepared them for her. Cooking the peeled artichokes was much easier and faster and the result delicious.

Since I buy my artichokes locally such a service is not available so I end up always with dark stained fingers and a mountain of debris. I already tried probably all the artichokes from each local store that sells them and found that those from Trade Joe's are the best. I am waiting now to try them from my local farmers market.

The idea of Roman artichokes dish is very simple. Artichokes are stuffed with garlic and parsley, which often is paired with this vegetable, and steamed in water and oil. They come out delicate, almost buttery, and if prepared properly, edible and delicious from the stem to the leaves. Ever since my recent visit in Rome I have made artichoke quite often and I believe that by now I have mastered this dish. All I need to make this dish as perfect as it was in Rome, is a glass of white wine from Lazio.

Roman Artichokes
(Serves four)

4 fresh globe artichokes,
one lemon,
4 garlic cloves,
2 tbsp chopped flat leaves parsley,
1/4 cup olive oil,
1/4 cup water,
salt to taste.

1. Remove outer leaves from artichokes until you get to the very green, fresh, and soft layer. Cut from the top of the artichoke about one third-half of the leaves.

2. Using a vegetable peeler peel off the stem and artichoke base. While preparing the next artichokes, put the ready one in a bowl of cold water with lemon juice from half of lemon to prevent discoloration.

3. When all the artichokes are prepared, drain them from water. Gently open leaves of artichokes and first put first a clove of garlic in each of them, then push about half a tbsp of chopped parsley.

4. In a heavy duty pot, tall enough to accommodate artichokes, put 1/4 cup of olive oil and water. Place artichokes head down and cover with a lid.

5. Heat the pot until oil and water start to sizzle. Turn down the heat to low medium and let the artichokes cook for about 30 minutes. Do not open the lid. After 30 minutes try with the fork if water evaporated and artichokes are soft. If not add a bit of water and let simmer for another couple of minutes. If they are ready, cover and let fry slightly for about 3 minutes.

6. Salt the artichokes before serving. Serve with lemon wedges.

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