Artichokes, the Military Vegetable

The artichoke
With a tender heart
Dressed up like a warrior,
Standing at attention, it built
A small helmet
Under its scales
It remained

-from “Ode to the Artichoke,” by Pablo Neruda


I have long wanted to eat another Jewish-style artichoke in Rome.  This dish has a militaristic history of its own.  It originated in the part of Rome where the Jewish ghetto was for many years, the oldest Jewish ghetto in Europe.  There were high stone walls, and every Jew had to be behind those walls between sunset and sunrise.  This forcibly insular culture evolved its own flavor of Roman cuisine.  Just as the Jewish ghetto was a city within a city, Roman Jewish food was a cuisine within a cuisine.

I first ate a Jewish artichoke that February nine years ago, on my first trip to Rome.  I last ate a Jewish artichoke last week.  And last week’s artichoke was not as delicious as that artichoke nine years ago.  So I researched.  I have changed a lot in the last decade, but I suspected that the artichokes, too, had changed.  And I was right.  Artichoke season is from February to May, and I made my recent artichoke pilgrimage during high summer.  The July artichoke I ate was either a far-and-away not-Roman artichoke, or it had been frozen.

Strange to be in a place where local food is the rule rather than the exception.  Strange and wonderful.  Next spring, I will be eating Roman Jewish-style artichokes.


Thus ends
In peace
This career
Of the armed vegetable
Which is called an artichoke,
Scale by scale,
We strip off
The delicacy
And eat
The peaceful mush
Of its green heart.

-also from “Ode to the Artichoke,” by Pablo Neruda