The Heart of the Matter
Spring in Italy means that artichokes, fava beans, asparagus, radishes, spinach, beets, chard and lettuces are all in season and if I had to pick a favorite it would be artichokes, especially those coming from Sicily.
One spring while staying at the Regaleali Wine estate, artichokes were available in the markets and from local roadside stands. Unlike our large Globe artichokes that come from California and are large and thorny with a central hairy choke that needs to be removed, Sicilian artichokes are small, thornless and choke-less and are cooked in smoldering embers. Their smokey flavor paired beautifully with Sicilian olive oil from the estate and a squirt of lemon juice.
In Rome, the whole artichoke is deep fried and opens up like a flower, which it is, being part of the thistle family. The Jewish ghetto of Rome was instrumental in introducing the Carciofi alla Giudia or Jewish style artichokes and one of the most famous places to enjoy them is at Piperno, one of the oldest restaurants in the ghetto.
In Naples, a classic dish with artichokes is called carciofi affogati, meaning drowned artichokes because they are cooked covered in a liquid. (see recipe below)
However you choose to have them, they are a spring and fall vegetable not to be missed.
Carciofi Affogati (Drowned Artichokes)
2 or 3 lemons
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic cut into thin slices
4 cups chicken broth or water
½ cup chopped olives
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons capers in salt, rinsed
Cut off the top ¼ inch of each artichoke and remove 2 layers of the bottom leaves. Peel away the outer layer of the stem. Cut each in half and use a small spoon to scrape out the hairy choke. Cut each half in half again. Place the artichokes in a bowl of lemon water and allow them to soak for 30 minutes,
Pour the oil into a high edge pan or soup pot; add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes. Drain the artichokes and add to the pan. Cook a couple of minutes. Pour in the broth to just cover the artichokes, cover and cook until tender, about 20 minutes.
Uncover, allow the broth to evaporate, add the olives, capers and parsley and oregano Salt and pepper to taste.