If you’ve been to Rome the chances are you’ve meandered to the ghetto to eat Carciofi alla Giudia the emblematic fried artichokes of the Jewish community there. Somehow they manage to combine several opposing elements in one simple dish. They are meaty and vegetal, crisp and yielding, subtle and sharp (from the drizzle of lemon juice). The first time I was in Rome I ate more artichokes in a week, in more varied ways then I had my entire life to that point. Okay, I was only seventeen, but the artichoke culture of Rome made a lasting impression. Who knew they were considered Jewish? Who knew it was possible, even preferable to leave the trash of the artichoke behind in the kitchen and only bring to the table the part you wanted to eat? It was a lesson. Where previously I had only eaten them whole, picking the leaves off one by one and scraping the tender flesh off with my teeth, in Rome I ate the artichokes with a knife and fork, fork in the left hand and knife in the right. So elegant, so weird at first. Later on I would forge a relationship with Silvana Cestier of Da Lucia in Trastevere. She taught me to properly trim an artichoke and I think of her every time I have one in my hand. And I think of my “sister” in Rome Elizabeth Minchilli who is so besotted by the edible thistle she coined the hashtag #carciofogram
Enough meditations let’s get down to cooking. Every year at Angeli I featured artichokes on my Passover menus. For years I tried to make Carciofi alla Giudia using our Globe variety. It was so frustrating. I had to trim so much of the artichoke away it seemed truly wasteful. And the remaining leaves never had enough base left to stay on after frying. And let’s not even discuss what a chore digging the heart out of a raw artichoke turns out to be. Eventually I learned to use large baby artichokes instead. I blanch the small artichokes briefly so that the leaves will more easily bend outward to form the floral form.
Artichokes Jewish Style aka Carciofi alla Giudia
a recipe for the deep fried Roman specialty Carciofi alla Giudia: Artichokes Jewish Style
Squeeze the lemon into a bowl of water and throw the squeezed lemon in as well. Set aside.
To trim the artichokes:
Remove the tough, dark green outer leaves of the artichokes until you begin to see more tender, yellowish leaves. Cut the point off the artichoke. Trim the stem, removing the outer dark green layer and leaving as much heart as you can.
As you trim the artichokes place them in lemon water, to avoid
Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Add salt. Boil the trimmed baby artichokes for about a minute or until the leaves are pliable. If they are very large also check to see that the heart is nearly tender by piercing it with a paring knife.
Lift the artichokes from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl of ice water.
Gently open the leaves of each blanched baby artichoke and tap them leaf side down on the counter top so that they open like a flower.
I store them upside down on paper towels until I'm ready to fry them for serving. I've kept them as long as 2 days. Don't be disturbed if they discolor. It won't affect the flavor and once fried you won't see it.
Heat olive oil in sauce pan to depth of 1 1/2-2 inches. I use my wok. Turn heat to medium high. Add the artichokes to the hot oil one at a time with the stem up. Use a pair of tongs keep to keep them submerged
until the heat of the oil fixes the leaves into the open floral shape. Turn them over and cook until they are tender at the heart when pierced with a paring knife.
As they finish cooking remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt to taste and serve on a platter with wedges of lemon.