Perhaps not everyone knows that many a traditional Roman recipe owes its origin to the Jewish cuisine of Rome, which in turn harks back to techniques and textures that go all the way to southern Italy and Sicily. I am fascinated by the history of food and by the resourcefulness and intelligence of human beings in developing deliciousness and sustainability at the same time. The Jewish population endured terrible conditions in Rome for many a generation, contending with all kinds of cruel rules and regulations making life inordinately difficult for them when they were enclosed in the Ghetto, and yet their menus are a delight to eat even today. Here is a link to some more background if you are interested: http://www.jwi.org/page.aspx?pid=2021#sthash.jPG5NZQY.dpbs.
“Carciofi alla giudia” means “artichokes cooked the Jewish way” and the area of Rome known as the Ghetto is famous for this speciality. I personally do not know anyone who has cooked these at home amongst my group of friends. It is definitely the sort of dish one only orders at a restaurant during this time of year.
Sunday evening, i.e. yesterday, however, I looked at three formerly glorious roman-type artichokes that were looking at me as if to say, “Look sweetie, we’re doing our best to keep fresh but there is only so much we can do! if you don’t eat us tonight, don’t expect anything tomorrow.”
They were somewhat flaccid to the touch, their colour was no longer resplendent, and their allure suffered definite signs of the slings and arrows of time. This said, they were eminently edible I hasten to add.
I trimmed them one at a time, and lay them to bathe in a bowl of acidulated water (i.e. water and lemon juice). For those who are not intimate with artichokes, the reason for this is that an artichoke will turn a very sad shade of grey shortly after it has been trimmed of its outer leaves (i.e. it oxidises). The lemony water prevents this. Sparkling water will have the same effect. When you are ready to cook the artichoke, remove it from the water and squeeze it gently to remove any excess liquid. Pat dry with a paper towel. If you go to a restaurant and ask for this dish, the artichoke’s stem will be left nice and long. I cut mine right back because I couldn’t find the saucepan that was deep enough to accommodate these little blighters. I poured the oil into the pan above and waited for the oil to reach the temperature before I ventured to gently place the artichoke inside it. The artichoke needs to fry for about 10-12 minutes, so the oil must not be too hot. I added the second artichoke. I used a set of tongs to turn the artichokes now and then, so that they would cook evenly on all sides. I then removed them from the oil and left them to cool off over some kitchen paper.If you look closely, you may spot a few beads of water. That is because I sprinkled a little bit of water over the artichokes. That helps them to crispen up when they are fried a second time.
I then gently but firmly pressed the artichoke to flatten it a little … And this time the temperature of the oil must be much hotter. The artichoke is already cooked, all it needs is for its outer leaves to go very crisp (the same idea as with potato chips or French fries). Fry for less then five minutes. Use the tongs to help the artichoke fry all over, turning it this way and that …I fried the artichokes one at a time. I ran out of kitchen paper (it was one of those days) and so I resorted to a clean tea towel. I sprinkled some salt all over …
And here is my little trio on the plate …Home-made carciofi alla giudia. Not too shabby.