Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.
Today: Deep-fried whole artichokes, a tradition from the Jewish quarter of Rome.
Italy is the world's top artichoke producer, so it's unsurprising that they also know a thing or two about getting the best out of these intimidating, spiny thistles. Across the country, artichokes are baked, stuffed, stewed, and eaten raw in salads. But possibly one of the best ways to eat them is how you can find them in Rome -- whole, deep fried carciofi alla giudia, with tender insides and crunchy, nutty leaves.
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A specialty of the city's famous Jewish cuisine, carciofi alla giudia is one of the Eternal City's favorite seasonal dishes. It's an age-old preparation, like the rest of this cuisine -- a wonderful combination of two cultures over centuries, made up largely of well-guarded recipes that have passed on from generation to generation with great respect for the traditions.
The best place to enjoy these, of course, is in the heart of Rome's old Jewish ghetto, where the preparation of carciofi alla giudia (along with a host of other delicious deep-fried things) is preserved in its restaurants. But it is also very easy to replicate at home. In Roman markets, during peak artichoke season, you can find both piles of whole artichokes and prepped ones, ready simply to be dipped into bubbling hot olive oil.
Without that luxury, you'll have to tackle the artichokes yourself. They may take a little bit of time and care to prepare, but once that's all done, the recipe is too easy.
Traditionally, this dish is made with large, round globe artichokes grown in Lazio, known as Romanesco artichokes. They have IGP or Protected Geographical Indication status, which means this particular variety is strictly tied to the area in which it has been historically and traditionally produced. The tough outer leaves are first removed, then the artichokes are trimmed until they look like roses. Then they are deep-fried, whole, at first quite gently, just rolling about until cooked. Then they are removed, cooled down, and plunged head first into bubbling hot olive oil until they look like sunburnt sunflowers. The trick to getting the unique combination of crisp leaves and tender interiors comes from frying twice.
Choose large, round globe artichokes that still have a bit of stem on them, and count on serving one of these per person as a starter.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.