The morning was blustery and I needed a macchiato before hitting the market. Never with a shopping list in mind, rather letting the goods for sale inspire the menu, I decided to make carciofi alla Romana. The wonderful globe artichokes have finally hit Rome markets, and braising them with garlic, olive oil and mentuccia is my favorite way to usher carciofo season.
The globe variety is considered throughout the world as the true artichoke, in Italy it’s the Romanesco. No matter which variety you select, choose wisely, a fuzzy choke is a tremendous disappointment. The bulbs should feel firm and solid when you pick them up. They should squeak yet shouldn’t give if you clutch them gently, nor should they feel light. If they do, the artichokes probably contain air (and thistly fuzz fiber) at the heart. In that case, pass it by. I trust my produce seller to choose the best and even trim them, for free.
In case you have to do the trimming yourself, first of all rub your hands and fingernails with lemon juice, to avoid them from blackening, artichokes do that.
Next, slice off the tough parts of the bulb, i.e. the pointy spiked tips and the outer tough leaves, working inwards to where the leaves are more tender and light colored. This is much like peeling an apple. In the process the artichoke will become somewhat spherical. Be sure to keep rubbing it with lemon juice as you trim it along.
When that’s done, work on the stalks. You do this by trimming away the ridged outer part while leaving the heart intact. If you look at the end of the stem you will see a ring: trim away the the fibrous, bitter part surrounding the core.
If the stems of the artichokes are taller than the pot you plan to cook them in, shorten them and scatter the odd ends in the pot, do not discard them! If properly cleaned, they are the sweetest part of the artichoke.
Carciofi alla Romana (Roman-style artichokes) is a recipe which should always include potatoes. And mentuccia (aka calamint, or pennyroyal). Complete list of ingredients and method below:
- 5 artichokes, trimmed
- 2 garlic cloves, unpeeled, smashed
- 1 small bunch of mentuccia
- 1 glass of water
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 3-4 new potatoes, quartered
Place the trimmed artichokes standing stems upward in a pot whose sides are high enough to keep the artichokes upright in a single layer as they cook. Pour 1 glass of water and the olive oil, the garlic, the mentuccia and potatoes. Season with a pinch of salt. Set the covered pot to simmer on medium-low heat. The trick is to place a sheet of brown paper between the lid and the pot to create a barrier that will seal off any steam from escaping the pot.
Cook for 10-15 minutes without ever uncovering.