It is April, which means cities across Italy are celebrating the bloom of the long awaited spring vegetables. One of the first to make its appearance is the carciofo or artichoke. Though each region grows its own variety of the root vegetable, it is in Lazio that lays claim to the popular Roman artichoke, internationally renowned for its size, color and exceptional taste. This “Romanesque” artichoke (Carciofo Romanesco) is one of the most appreciated varieties of the over 50 artichoke types available in Italy.
An icon of Roman cuisine, the Roman artichoke (Cynara Cardunculus) comes from the plains of the Lazio region. The earliest carciofi are harvested in Ladispoli and Cerveteri, while the later varieties come from the Agro Pontino plain that extends to Sezze in the province of Latina.
Each year the town of Ladispoli kicks off the artichoke season with La Sagra del Carciofo Romanesco, a festival that celebrates this popular delicacy. To show our appreciation for this favorite Italian vegetable I have included typical Roman recipes and how to prepare the versatile carciofi.
Abbacchio e Carciofi in Fricassea (Spring Lamb and Artichoke in Fricassee)
Prep time: 30 min Cook time: 1 hour 10 min Yield: Serves 6
2 pounds lamb, cut into pieces
4 Roman artichokes
Juice of one lemon
2 bay leaves
½ cup flour
2 tablespoons minced parsley
4 eggs, lightly beaten
6 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Season the flour to taste with salt and pepper and put it in a paper bag, together with the lamb and shake to cover the pieces of meat.
Heat three tablespoons of olive oil and parsley in a large cast iron pan and when the oil is hot add the meat. Cook for 5-7 minutes, turning the pieces to brown them on all sides; then add the bay leaves and a few tablespoons of hot water. Cover and simmer over a low flame for an hour, adding more water if need be to keep the meat from drying out.
While the meat is cooking, clean the artichokes, removing the tough outer leaves. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, add lemon juice and artichokes. Boil for 6-7 minutes, remove and shock in ice water. Dry them off and slice into pieces. When you have finished slicing them, heat the remaining oil in a second skillet. Briefly sauté the artichokes, then add a couple of tablespoons of water, season with salt and pepper to taste and simmer them until they are done and the water has been absorbed.
By now the lamb should be about done. Lightly beat the eggs with a pinch of salt. Stir them into the artichokes and cook, stirring briskly until they have thickened but have not really set firmly. Make a ring of the artichoke mixture on a serving dish and fill it with the lamb stew.
Carciofi con Vongole e Fava (Artichokes with Clams and Fava Beans)
Prep time: 25 min, plus 1 hour to soak clams Cook time: 1 hr Yield: Serves 4
6 Roman Artichokes
1 pound of clams in their shells
1 pound fresh fava beans in the pod
2 cloves of garlic, peeled, 1 chopped and 1 crushed
1 bunch of parsley, chopped
1 sprig of mint, trimmed and chopped
1 lemon juiced, for acidulated water
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup vegetable broth
4-5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and white pepper, to taste
Peel the artichokes by taking off the tough outer leaves and open them in half. Remove the hay inside then cut them into pieces. Pour them into a bowl filled with water with lemon juice.
In a pan, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil along with 1 clove of garlic, parsley and mint. Combine the artichokes and brown, then add salt and pepper and moisten with vegetable broth. Cook for 20 minutes, then keep them warm.
Meanwhile, prepare the clams: Rinse, eliminate those that do not close, then let them drain in salted water for about an hour. Place them in a pan with 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 clove of garlic and the white wine. Cook until the clams are open (about 10 minutes), eliminating those that remained closed. Drain the liquid and set aside.
Shell beans, rinse and boil in water for about 15 minutes, then drain and mix them with artichokes. Add the clams and return to the stove for 5 minutes, then serve immediately.
6 artichokes, halved and trimmed of coarse (but not inner) leaves, choke removed
½ cup dry white wine
¾ cup boiling water
In a small bowl, combine the parsley, mint, garlic, salt and 1 tablespoon olive oil. In the cavity of the artichoke from which the choke was removed, place 1 teaspoon of the herb mixture. Repeat this procedure with the remaining chokes. Arrange all chokes in a deep pan that keeps them close together, in other words, one that does not give them room to fall over. Add the wine, boiling water, remaining oil and a pinch of salt. Cover and simmer on the stovetop 1 hour. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Carciofi alla Giuda
Prep time: 20 min Cook time: 10 min Yield: 4 servings
Remove the tough outer leaves from the artichokes and cut stem to about 1 inch. With a very sharp paring knife, trim each artichoke from the bottom to the top all around the head to cut off only the hard part of the leaf. Soak in water with the juice of one lemon to prevent them from turning brown. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a pan.
Remove the artichokes from the water, dry and press face down on a cutting board to open the leaves. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper inside the opened leaves. Drop the artichokes into hot but not boiling oil (check the temperature with a small piece of the stem) with the stem end up. Fry for about 10 minutes or until easily pierced with a knife. Drain, turn up the heat and return them to the boiling oil for a few seconds until crisp. Drain on paper towels and serve hot.
Prep time: 40 min Cook time: 50 min Yield: 6 servings
2 lemons, halved
5 large artichokes (about 12 ounces each)
1 ½ cups shelled fresh or frozen fava beans
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 sprig oregano, optional
2 ounces guanciale or pancetta, slivered
2 cups shelled fresh or frozen peas
¼ cup chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped mint
* teaspoon lemon juice, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
For the artichokes: Fill a large bowl halfway with cold water. Squeeze the lemons into the water and add the rinds to the bowl. Using a serrated knife cut off the top third of an artichoke. Pull back and snap off the dark green, leafy blades, one by one, until only the pale yellow leaves remain. Using a paring knife, trim the artichoke bottom and stem to the pale green flesh, then cut it in half lengthwise. Drop into the water (to keep the artichoke from turning brown) and repeat with the remaining artichokes. Using a spoon scoop out the prickly leaves and hairy choke. Cut each half into 4 wedges and return to the water until ready to use.
If using fresh fava beans, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Fill a large bowl two-thirds full with ice water. When the water comes to a boil, add the beans and cook for 1 minute, then drain and immediately submerge the beans in the ice water. Peel the beans by gently tearing the pale skins and pinching at one end. Discard the skins, reserving the dark green interiors.
For the stew: Heat a 12-inch nonreactive pan over medium heat. Add ¼ cup olive oil and when hot, add the onion, oregano (if using) and guanciale. Cook, stirring occasionally until the onion and guanciale are translucent, about 10 minutes. Drain artichokes and add to the pan, along with 2 cups water and 1 ¼ teaspoons salt. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until artichokes are just tender, about 25 minutes. If using frozen favas, add them and cook for 2 minutes. If using fresh favas add them, along with the peas, and cook until warm and tender, about 5 minutes more. Remove the oregano sprig. Sprinkle in parsley and mint. Season with lemon juice, freshly ground black pepper and if desired additional salt. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and serve.