Edible roses – the seasonally correct artichoke

If you find a restaurant or trattoria serving fresh carciofi in September in Rome … you can be sure they come from France … because home-grown, Italian carciofi don’t start peeping into the kitchen until Christmas time, when they are served fried during the festive season.  And Easter is the apogee of the carciofo.  I’m one of those who never tire of eating carciofi, whether thinly sliced in a salad with parmesan shavings, fried in batter, deep fried alla giudia, pan fried with only a little olive oil, as a pasta sauce with the addition of sausage, or just cooked alla romana.

The trouble with carciofi is cleaning them and getting them ready for cooking, a task that took some time for me to master.  When you look at the average carciofo, half you what you see of its outer self has to be thrown away  … you have to be ruthless in getting rid of these tough outer leaves, otherwise you shall definitely rue what you chew.

So this post is mainly about how to prepare carciofi — cooking them is the easy part!

(1) TRIMMING

Aside from the carciofo, the most important tool you will require is a very sharp knife.  When artichokes are cut, they oxidise very quickly (turn a dark colour), so it is standard practice to place trimmed carciofi in a bowl with some lemon juice in it.  An alternative is to place them in a bowl full of very fizzy water — that too will prevent oxidisation.

Trim the staulk first …

Moving concentrically, from the outer layer in towards the inner layer, get rid of as many of the artichoke’s leaves as required, until you reach leaves that look like the photo above, a very light green colour at the tip and almost white at the bottom.

I inserted this photo to give you an idea of just how much of the carciofo gets discarded … take a look at the untrimmed carciofo on the right hand side of this frame and compare it with the trimmed one on the left …

Next peel the outer layer of the staulk, all the way to where it reaches the actual artichoke …

Again, notice how much is peeled away and discarded …

(2) SCULPTING THE CARCIOFI

The idea is to cut away and sculpt the artichoke so that it ends up looking a bit like a very fat rose bloom.  This is when the sharp knife enters into the equation, it’s impossible without one.

Placing the carciofo so that it lies sideways on the chopping board, hold the knife at a slant, at about 45 degrees so to speak … so that when you slice through, you won’t be slicing ‘across’ it as such …. you will be slicing a little bit at a time, because you will  be rotating the carciofo too …

Rotation number one …

The more you rotate the artichoke and slice at a slant, the more the knife will move ‘up’ the carciofo ….

You can stop sculpting the carciofo when you reach about half way up …

See what I mean about it looking like a fat rose?

The only time you cut across, rather than diagonally, is at the very end when you chop off the very tip of the carciofi leaves.

(3) BATHING THE CARCIOFI

Insert your two thumbs delicately into the carciofo and ‘tug’ away in both directions so that it opens out a little …

Rub a lemon along its sides and …

Bath time … plonk the cleaned and trimmed carciofi into the aforementioned lemon water …

(4) STUFFING THE CARCIOFI

Get rid of as much lemon water as you can from the carciofi and again, use your two thumbs to gently tug away in order to open the carciofi even more.  Ordinarily I would have used parsely leaves … however, I had run out and so I chose to use marjoram leaves instead.  Mint leaves or the menta romana botanical kind are traditonal too.

Stuff half a clove of garlic (more would be really too much!) into the ‘cavity’ of the carciofo …

And close the cavity with the herbs.  Notice I did NOT chop them.

Rub some salt around the rim of the carciofo.  (By the way, there is far too much salt on my fingers for one carciofo alone in this photo! … don’t worry I used it for the other carciofi too).

Sitting pretty … three carciofi, trimmed, washed and stuffed ready to be cooked.

Once I cooked twenty carciofi all in one go … the only way to avoid being daunted by the exercise was to put music on and just ‘wing it’, zen fashion … and it was worth the trouble!

And don’t ask what they were doing in the bedroom … hint: it was the only place where I could put them and not have people pick at them before dinner!

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About myhomefoodthatsamore

Community celebration via food, wine and all beautiful things.
This entry was posted in Artichokes - Carciofi, Basic Techniques, Contorni and/or side dishes, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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