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.

Paolo Scavino: Crossing over into Italy

Old grape vines, like old people, have a soul, Riccardo explained.  Take Enrico Scavino, for example.  Enrico, he always says I know more than him, but, of course, he knows more than me.

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View from the loading dock.

Enrico, the son of Paolo, was out on the fields that morning at 6:30.  He is 74 years old.  Enrico was helping with the green harvest, trimming away bunches of unripe grapes to let them decompose back into the ground.  There are only a limited number of resources, and fewer grapes means higher quality.  This rule always seems to hold true.

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The wine library at Paolo Scavino.

 

We only make wine from grapes that are at least 15 years old.  Time, suffering, deeper roots- these are things that create a great wine.  At some point back in the 60’s, Enrico decided he wanted to stop blending all of his Nebbiolo grapes together and make a wine that represented the best that his land had to offer.  Then he made the single vineyard Bric de Fiasc, 1978.  Enrico was an iconoclast, a part of a group of iconoclasts.

 

The land has been good to us, Riccardo said.  The land has given to us.  We decided that we would give something back.  He pointed at a label of the 2008 Bric de Fiasc Riserva.  This vintage of the Bric de Fiasc was the only reserve they had ever made from that land, and it was the only reserve they would ever make.  All of the proceeds from that reserve would be invested into charities that protected the land.  We’re not in America, anymore, I said.  We’re not even in France, anymore.

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The bigger barrels in the back are made of Slovenian oak. Slovenian oak barrels are sometimes used for decades.

Ricardo brought out three tasting glasses- one for me, one for my brother, and one for himself.  They were Zalto glasses.  These glasses are the best for the wine, Ricardo said.  He poured a tiny amount of wine into each glass and swirled it around until it coated the inside of the glass.  You must prepare the bed for the king, he said, and winked.

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About that Nebbiolo…

My brother told me the other day that Nebbiolo is named after the Italian word for fog.  The fog is that dusty film that covers the outside of all grapes, whether they are ripening on the vines in Piedmont, or in a plastic bag in the supermarket.  Blueberries have these fog clouds, too.  This fog is the yeast colonies that settle on the outside of the fruit, drawn the sugar stored behind the skins, I imagine.  This yeast is the yeast that eventually ferments the wine.  As any homebrewer knows, when you make beer, you have to add the yeast yourself.  When you make wine, the yeast comes to you.

 

Nebbiolo is the grape, and I will be paying it a visit in a few weeks with my sommelier chef brother.  The wine that is made from these Nebbiolo cloud grapes is Barolo.  I have tasted Barolo before with my brother.  And last week I tried a Nebbiolo d’Alba.  Both of these wines are made in Piedmont, and both of these wines are from 100% Nebbiolo grapes.  And they are so different.

 

Here is a random smattering of some other people’s word attempts to capture the personality of the Barolo:

 

a stern-faced ‘worthy’ of Italian wine; a big, tough, terrifying red; a giant of propriety; dark, chewy, and exhausting for the first few years of their life, yet which can blossom out into a remarkable shower of flavours; a class apart; massive

 

To me, a Barolo tastes like a very old house with glass windows that have started to waver with time.  The windows face east, and the sun is shining into them at an angle, and as a square of the wood heats up under the sun, it comes alive with the smells of time.  And it changes.  A carpenter once told me that wood is a vein. It changes with water, and it absorbs from the air.  The older the wood is, the more life it has absorbed and can breathe out.

 

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This is almost, very nearly, what a Barolo tastes like when it’s ripe. An earlier version of the Floor Scrapers by Caillebotte.