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 a 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 the restaurants of this Roman quarter. But it is also very easy to replicate at home. In Roman markets during peak artichoke season, you can find amongst the piles of whole artichokes, already prepared ones, ready simply to be dipped into bubbling hot olive oil.
Artichokes may take a little bit of time and care to prepare, but this preparation is even simpler than most and once that's done, the recipe is too easy.
Using 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 then plunged head first into bubbling hot olive oil until they look like sunburnt sunflowers.
The trick to getting the unique combination of crisp leaves – nutty and deep golden brown – and a meltingly tender interior comes from frying twice.
Choose large, round globe artichokes that still have a bit of stem on them. —Emiko
- Serves 4
- Prepare the artichokes by first peeling off the outer leaves that are tough and hard, beginning from the base, removing the leaves until you see they become more tender. Once you've done this, with a small, sharp knife, begin trimming the top points of the artichoke's remaining leaves, again working from the base up. When you reach halfway or so, cut the top half (or third, depending on how tender the artichokes are) of the artichoke completely off. Rub the artichokes all over with half a lemon.
- Now trim the stem; chop the bottom off, leaving about 2 to 3 inches of stem and then trim it, peeling away the outer layer of the stem and the bottom of the artichoke so you have just the tender inner part of the stem attached. Place the artichokes in a bowl with the juice of 1 lemon until they are ready for frying. Drain completely and pat dry with kitchen paper before frying.
- Heat about 3 inches of olive oil in a saucepan over low-medium heat and fry the artichokes gently (if you have a candy thermometer, this should be about 300º F or 150º C) for about 10 minutes, prodding them with a fork every now and then, letting them roll around to cook thoroughly.
- Remove and drain the artichokes on paper towels. When cool enough to handle (you can also pop them into the freezer for a couple minutes to do this quickly), help open up the artichoke carefully by teasing some of the leaves out and flattening the artichoke a little.
- Turning the heat up higher (this time about 350ºF or 180ºC), deep fry the artichokes, head down (tongs are handy for this) for a couple of minutes or until crisp and a deep, deep golden brown. Drain on paper towels then serve while still hot, sprinkled with sea salt and some pepper.