Two weekends ago we took advantage of the first real spring days and we enjoyed some grilling and cooking with close friends. Marketa, asked me for a typical recipe to cook some fresh artichokes she brought along (they are starting to be in season). For me it has been a real treat: i love artichokes, i come from an island where they are a very important part of our culinary tradition and, since they are not that easy to find, we regularly organize dinners in a typical Italian trattoria where we know they cook them perfectly.
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1/4 cup mint, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 spoons olive oil plus extra for finishing
¼ cup of breadcrumbs
1. Discard the tough outer leaves and chop the stems of the artichokes off just below the bases. Firmly press each artichoke upside down on the counter to make it “bloom.” Scoop out the choke (the hairy white part) and place the cleaned artichokes in a bowl of water with the juice of 1 lemon squeezed in. This prevents the inside of the artichokes from becoming an unappetizing greyish-brown when exposed to the air.
2. Mix together garlic, lemon, herbs, bread crumbs and olive oil. Take artichokes out of lemon bath, rub the mixture inside, spooning any extra inside. Salt and pepper liberally on surface.
3. Place artichokes side by side, like soldiers at attention, upside in a heavy-bottomed pot with 1 inch of hot oil and a bit of chopped garlic. You want the artichokes close enough together so that they can’t tip over and float around. Cook for 2/3 minutes. Add boiling water up to the junction of the stem.
4. Cover the top of the pot ( you can eventually seal with a damp paper towel and place a tight-fitting lid over that – this is to prevent any steam from escaping). Cook on medium for 30-35 minutes. The artichokes are ready when a fork pierces them easily. Remove the artichokes from the pot and set on a plate to cool. Once they are lukewarm, drizzle olive oil over them and decorate with some fresh mint leaves. You want to wait to add the oil until the artichokes have cooled a bit so that they don’t immediately suck it up and become soggy.
Note: The thinner, violet “Roman” artichokes are traditionally used but the dish will be delicious with the squatter globe artichokes as well. Carciofi alla romana makes a perfect side for a mild fish or chicken dish. Or serve it before the meal with good, crusty bread as an antipasto. They are excellent with an aioli dip.