Apr 3, 2009

Carciofi alla Romana

Artichokes are one of the nicest things about winter in central Italy. They appear with the leaden skies of December and accompany us through the beginning of spring, in April. They come in a tremendous variety of shapes and colors, from tiny delicate ones well suited for being eaten raw in Pinzimonio (a dip made with simple olive oil and salt) or preserved sott’olio (in oil); to purplish green grapefruit-sized ones suitable for sauteing, stuffing, salads, making pasta sauce, frying and whatnot. Since this is the end of this adorable bounty, why not use up the last artichokes for something sassy and palatable?

The globe varietal is considered throughout the world as the true artichoke, in Italian food classification however it is the Roman. No matter which variety you select, you have to do so with great care, because a fuzzy choke is a tremendous disappointment. Like any good orange, a good carciofo will feel firm and solid when you pick it up. It should squeak yet shouldn't give if you clutch it gently, nor should it feel light. If it does, it probably has air (and thistly fuzz fiber) in its heart. Pass it by.
Once you have selected your artichokes and gotten them home, stand them in a vase with water until you’re ready to use them (they are flowers, after all). If need be you can keep them like this for a day or two, but they do tend to toughen with time.

The secret - admitted it can be called that - for preparing an artichoke is knowing how to trim it, that is how to free it of the tough leaves, bitter outer stem part and inner fuzz we Romans call with the generalizing term barbe, for “beards”.

First of all rub your hands and fingernails with lemon juice, to avoid them from blackening, artichokes do that. Next, slice off the tough parts of the globe, and that means the pointy spiked tips and the outer coriaceous leaves, working inwards to where the leaves are more tender and light colored.

This is much like peeling an apple. In the process the artichoke will become spherical.
Be sure to keep rubbing it with lemon juice as you trim it along.

When that’s done, the stalks need cleaning, trimming away the ridged outer part while leaving the heart intact. If you look at the end of the stem you will see a ring; trim away the stem outside it, and shorten the stalks.

Do not discard them, if properly cleaned, they are the sweetest, best tasting part of the artichoke!

Now that the hard part's over, here's how to cook carciofi, Roman-style. This is one of my all-time favorite side dishes. I have to thank my eldest half-sister Amy, for that. She's the one who taught me to appreciate artichokes when I was 8 years old. I never stopped eating them since.
  • 5 artichokes, trimmed
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • A small bunch of Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 glass of water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt
Place the trimmed artichokes standing stems upward in a pan, one whose sides are high enough to keep the artichokes upright in a single layer as they cook (you may want to shorten the stems, scattering the odd ends in the pan). Pour 1 glass of water and one of olive oil, the minced garlic, the chopped parsley and season with a pinch of salt. All ingredients are typically thrown in raw before setting the covered pot to simmer. A trick is to place a sheet of paper towel or brown paper between the lid and the pot to create a barrier that will seal off any steam dispersion. Cook for 10-15 minutes without ever uncovering.

Once cooked, artichokes are ready to be served hot, though they’re also excellent cold the next day. They should however never be reheated, as the resulting taste can be quite blah.


  1. I'll be there tomorrow. No doubt the 'Carciofi' will already have been bought and will be waiting for me to cook them!

  2. I adore artichokes - they're among my very favorite foods. This was a wonderful, informative article on the how-to's!

    In the States, it's harder to buy them with the stems - I love the stems and wish that was more common here.

  3. You make everything look so easy, Lola.
    I don't think I have eaten an artichoke since I was a child. I will have to emedy that.xx♥

  4. Guy grew artichokes for us last year, but I didn't really know how to cook them properly - even after searching through my cook books. Finally, I just boiled them for 20 minutes and we ate them with lemon juice and melted butter, scraping off the lovely soft part of the leaves with our teeth until we reached the heart. Very messy, it was, and...well...rather sensual too!

    Now, thanks to you my lovely new friend, I know exactly how to treat them! Perfect. Thank you, Lola, once again for another wonderful culinary adventure.

  5. Lola you should seriously think of writing a cookbook. It would have to have the stories just like in your blog attached to all the recipes. I would buy it, I would never make anything but I would love the pictures and the stories.

    Fantasy Friday BLD are three pictures I put for the day and they are for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

    Love Renee xoxo

  6. Wow, you work hard for your food. I'll admit, I'm a lazy cook. Love the chokes...but I just trim them, steam them, then stuff them with bread crumbs, parmagiano, little garlic, and drizzled with some olive oil and butter. Pull off a leaves and scrape the good stuff off between your teeth. Gosh, that sounds barbaric in writing.

    In the flatlands they are always a hit because a lot of folks don't know what to do with them.

    Did you ever wonder who was the first person to eat a 'choke? That had to take some imagination...and hunger....to look past those tough outer leaves. I bet his name was Arti.

  7. Scintilla - Buon appetito, doll.

    Jen - What a shame, the stems are the best part!

    Natalie - Oh, yes you must absolutely do that. Thank you!

    Tessa - Sensual is the right word for eating artichokes that way... More to come on them later, I promise.

    Renee dear - The manuscript is finished. It sits restlessly at the bottom of my desk, waiting for a publisher to consider it. So far I've gotten one turndown by Clarkson Potter and nothing else. Just like the blog, the recipes in it are an excuse to tell stories. I'm touched by your insight!

  8. Py - you must've slipped in while I was replying to the others. LOL to Arti, the choke man. Scraping off the tender part with your teeth's what artichokes are all about! With this type of trimming you can eat it whole, how barbaric is that? :)

  9. Lola,
    Artichokes (=enginar in turkish) is my most fave veggie. Mi piace da morire!!!
    This looks terrific, your recipe. A bit different than ours. Romans love their artichokes and prepare them many different ways, and this is one of them, no doubt.
    Here we mostly cook it as stuffed, very delish very. To what I remember from my Italian friend saying that what makes the Roman style art cooking is the mint, am I right?

    Back to your interesting comment, I found this:)
    Oh my oh, Dikili? How much I'm surprised when reading your comment that you can't expect. Dikili has very rich cultural assets for tourism, as you know. Gives a service to tourists with its blue flagged beaches and also thermal waters. Do you know the historical and natural beauties of Bademli Village, very close to Dikili w/in a few minutes by car? There in my summer house is under construction, and expected to finish over no longer than 2-yrs. I'd welcome to have you as my guest and enjoy the natural beauties of Dikili. Dikili and its around is where I too often go for holidaying.

    This was by so nice coincidence to hear your voice about it, cheers:)

    Wish you a lovely buon fine weekend~

  10. love artichokes, but I'm lazy buy them in a jar, so know I'm missing out on an expereince.

  11. Nihal - My gosh, that's an incredible coincidence! When I went, I was a guest of an Italian architect/production designer friend and his wife. Ezio and Franca owned a splendid house they designed themselves overlooking the water. They now sold the property unfortunately.
    I remember the circular rooms, and a landing jetty that reached into the turquoise sea on which I would sit on for hours, playing with the giant Monarch butterflies... a dream.

    Mandy - If you're lazy you can do this: discard the outer leaves. Pour some olive oil in a small bowl. Add salt. Dip the inner leaves and scrape the soft part between your teeth. Done.

  12. I have never had an artichoke, never. And that seems like such a shame. Oh, they look wonderful.

  13. Erin, it is a terrible shame. Artichokes are big ugly, thistly flowers, dusty with gray and filled with fuzz. They look uninviting and stain your fingers and tongue. But they are food for the Gods. The coriaceous outer leaves, the tender heart and the sweet stem. A tasty piece of Nature. You should get some and play. Ciao, muse.

  14. Well that is the first time I've ever heard an artichoke compared to an apple.

  15. Doodah, (he he)

    OH MY GOD this artichoke looks delish. Lola, I am so glad you came to my site and now I have met you and YOUR delectable site. I'm definitely putting you in my blogroll. RIGHT NOW!


    Caroline (doodahdiva)

  16. Michael - Ha, triumph!
    Caroline (Doodah) - Thank you, you're always welcome for a bite to eat, a read, a sip of something. Why don't you peruse my archive for more delectables? Buon Apperito!

  17. Oh Lola, I was getting so nervous with you and that knife!
    But! the artichoke recipe looks like something I could do, I love them! yum! I'm sorry I've not been by, I see I have catching up to do!
    xoxo lori

  18. I love artichokes, but I've never had any truck with the trimming - it seems to waste so much goodness! I usually lop off the tops, trim the stems, pull of a few of the outer leaves, toss the whole lot in water and boil and then serve with slatherings of melted butter - and nibble, nibble, nibble like a rabbit at the leaves until I get to that luscious heart. All that said, your recipe sounds divine, so I may just get brave and give it a go! :-)

  19. Lori - When are you off to the Mother Land? Ciao darling friend

    Nicky - These are trimmed like this so you can eat them whole, otherwise I do the same, just pluck off the outer parts an nibble away. Ciao and thank you!

  20. Mmmmmmhhhh, fantastic! I love artichokes too and I cook them with exactly the same ingredients as "alla Romana" except for I slice them thinly. The result is very suitable for pasta or risotto or even a tasty (and a bit crunchy if you fry them a bit) side dish.
    I want to try to cook them interi, next time.
    Thank you Lola!

  21. Valeria - when I make pasta ai carciofi I do the same. Ciao!

  22. Oh, here i am Lola, ummm THIRTY EIGHT more days!!! I am like a kid waiting for Christmas, counting off the days! ♥♥♥

  23. 38???!!! That's an eternity!!! Hang in there, the anticipation must be eating away at you... I'm with you, Lori.