Artichokes, the Military Vegetable Continuation

Because life is a strange and wonderful thing, I found myself back in Rome for a training during artichoke season six months after figuring out that artichoke season exists.

 

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Here they are, all “dressed up like warrior[s], standing at attention.” (Pablo Neruda)

I ordered Carciofi alla Guidia, or Jewish-style artichokes, at Giggetto in the Jewish ghetto of Rome, the oldest Jewish ghetto in the world.

 

While we were eating, an elderly gentleman came in with an acoustic guitar and crooned to us Dean Martin songs, “Volare” and “That’s Amore.”  It’s not that Michelangelo’s muscular deities of the Sistine Chapel and Bernini’s ability to carve movement into marble aren’t testaments to human creation and achievement and commitment.  It’s just that the artichoke recipes of Rome are as beautiful a contribution to the human culture.  At least as beautiful of a contribution.  Maybe even more beautiful.  As Alberto Capatti and Massimo Montanari wrote, “What is the glory of Dante compared to spaghetti?”

 

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“Scale by scale we strip off the delicacy and eat…” Carciofi alla Guidia: better than Bernini. Probably.

 

I also ordered Carciofi alla Romana in the very, very pink Edoardo II.  I can also recommend the Gnocchi alla Casa.  Because it was delicious.

 

 

 

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The “peaceful green mush of the artichoke’s green heart.” Carciofi alla Romana: better than Michelangelo. Most likely.

For more historical information about the Campagna where the artichokes are grown, I recommend this article published in the New York Times in 1983 by the late Paul Hofmann.

As far as recipes go, I have broken my own tender green heart trying to cook Carciofi alla Guidia more than once, but if you want to rally yourself to try and fry a few in your kitchen, Joan Nathan adapts the recipe to American artichokes in her recipe.  For my kitchen, I plan on experimenting with Carciofi alla Romana, and I’m going to slightly adapt Stevie Parle’s recipe from Real Cooking, Near and Far.

 

Carciofi alla Romana

  • 5-6 artichokes
  • 1/2 cup chopped flat Italian parsley
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed with the flat of a knife, with the peels removed
  • 1 cup of white wine
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil

Trim the stalk of your artichokes, scrape out the choke, and snip off the pokies on the flower end.To boil your artichokes, Parle recommends putting them in a pot that will  “hold your artichokes snugly with their stalks in the air so they won’t topple over.”  I’m going to allow myself some leeway on this, as I don’t think I own such a pot.  After you’ve settled your artichokes in as best you can, add the parsley, mint, garlic, white wine, and olive oil.  Add enough water to the pot “to reach just below where the heart turns to the stalk.”  Steam on medium heat for about 20 minutes, being careful to replenish the water if it all evaporates before then.  When the hearts are soft, take the lid off and increase the heat so that the artichokes begin to brown.  Serve and eat.

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
Unshakeable…

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

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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.

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Thus ends
In peace
This career
Of the armed vegetable
Which is called an artichoke,
Then
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