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Artichokes: Carciofi alla Giudia, from A Pinch of Coriander, Book One, 'Time Will Tell'

Updated: Jun 26, 2023

(excerpt followed by recipe below)



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"After an hours’ ramble through the streets, inns, and antique shops where Lidia bought six vintage tin jelly molds in prettily fluted shapes, they were ready for a prodigious lunch. Lidia was quite surprised at how spoiled for choice they were amongst many good dining establishments, when Shelton decided upon an Italian trattoria that was rumored to have a wine list as sophisticated and expansive as one could find in similar establishments in Toronto. In fact, it had an intimate dining space in the wine cellar called, The Enoteca, being next to where the liquid assets were stored. The stairwell in the one-hundred-sixty-year-old house had been opened-up to be visible from the upper levels, so the cellar was light and airy.
They opted for seating there, where they would have the attention of the resident sommelier with whom Shelton had held a brief interview. Lidia got a few words with the busy chef-owner, and shots of the beautiful old barrels and racks of gleaming, expensive bottles. She was happy that the lighting in The Enoteca was uneven, but atmospheric, giving her pictures a lovely Baroque feeling.
After perusing the lunch menu, Lidia decided on her starter, carciofi alla Giudia, artichokes in the Jewish style, a Roman dish where the artichoke heads are flattened out like sunflowers, then fried until crisp and bronze. Shelton opted for tuna tartar, having the waiter’s assurance that the blue fin tuna had come in fresh that day from Prince Edward Island.
Even though artichokes were thought difficult, due to their slight bitterness, to pair with wine, the chef recommended they try a sparkling wine, Nova 7, from Benjamin Bridge. It was a new enterprise by a group of Ontario wine makers who gambled on the fact that this region had a micro-climate and terroir comparable to France’s Champagne region. The gamble paid-off well, their first vintage pre-sold, earning enthusiastic reviews.
The reviews were justified, Shelton reckoned, as he thoughtfully sipped the wine, enjoying its clean, crisp minerality and fine effervescence. It put them both in a rather festive mood, the kind for which sparkling wine was created. "

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Artichokes are an ancient food that features in diverse cuisines from the Middle East to the Mediterranean; they are actually thistles with spiky leaves tightly arranged around a fuzzy purple, inedible inner choke. Their edible parts are the stalk to within two inches of the base or heart, the prized heart itself and the tender bases of the leaves. The exception is the very tiny tender variety, ‘baby anzio,’ which is enjoyed whole in the spring. Other varieties include the beautiful wine-colored Siena with a tiny choke and heart so tender it can be eaten raw, the Chianti, which is green with open leaves ideal for stuffing, and the big grandfather of them all, the Romanesco from which California’s large globe artichokes were evolved. In fact, many of the new world varieties are hybrids of Italian species, so it’s no wonder Italians love them and have cultivated them for centuries.

Italians prepare them grilled, steamed, stuffed, fried, pickled and eat them raw. They usually enjoy them with only a light benediction of salt and a squeeze of lemon; mint is the favoured herbal enhancement. Even the euphemism for the strategy of dealing with political enemies is called la politica del carciofo where one dispatches one’s enemies as they would consume the leaves of a boiled artichoke, one-by-one, slowly savoring each! During the struggle for the country’s unification, Charles Emmanuel III of Sardinia declared that Italy, like an artichoke, is to be taken leaf by leaf and not in one bite.

In Italy, artichokes traditionally feature as part of the spring religious celebrations of Passover and Easter accompanying fish or lamb. One very popular dish, Carciofi alla Giudia, (artichokes in the Jewish style), originated in Rome’s 16th century Jewish ghetto where the artichokes are cooked twice in olive oil; first to blanch, then to crisp them, the leaves of the heads opened-out to look like late autumn sunflowers. My lighter version of this dish omits the first blanching in oil, cooking them in acidulated water instead, then to make them crisp, the heads are fried in olive oil. If you use the large globe artichokes as the recipe indicates, you may serve them as a light lunch with dressed greens and some lemon garlic aioli on the side to dip the leaves, or if choosing a smaller variety, you can serve them as an antipasto, or as a contorno on a platter with lemon slices surrounding a roast of lamb.

Carciofi alla Giudia

(Serves 4)

Ingredients:

· 4 large globe artichokes

· 2 lemons

· Kosher salt and fresh pepper (to taste)

· 1 ¾ cups olive oil (not extra-virgin)

Preparation:

Select a deep saucepan just wide enough to accommodate the artichokes. Fill halfway with cold water; add a half teaspoon of salt and the juice of one lemon.

Remove the first three rows of outer leaves from the artichokes by pulling them downward, leaving their tender bases attached to the head. Then using a paring knife or scissors to cut off the dark green upper-half from the remaining leaves, rotating the artichoke as you go. Remove the top third of each head and the fuzzy inner choke with the knife or a grapefruit spoon. Peel the stalk up and over the base. Add each artichoke to the lemon water as you go in order to prevent browning.

Bring the artichokes in the water to a low boil. Cover the pot loosely. Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with paper towels and set a cake rack over it. After 15 minutes, pierce the base of a couple of artichokes with a skewer; if it penetrates fairly easily they are done, if not return to the boil and check at frequent intervals. When done they should be tender yet firm.

Place artichokes head down on the rack, squeeze each gently to remove excess water. Then gently spread their leaves open. Dry each artichoke with paper towels, return to rack and leave to dry-out further for an hour, or more. This step can be done the day before frying.

In a deep saucepan, add the olive oil and heat to 370F. Using long-handled tongs or a spider, slowly place each artichoke head down in the hot oil, being very careful, as any water retained in the artichoke will make the oil spatter. When crisp and golden, drain the artichokes on the rack. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and serve warm with lemon slices or garlic-lemon aioli.

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