Finally spring seems to have arrived. February has been mild and sunny, almond tree and mimosa have started to blossom and my favorite flowers have arrived at the market. Artichokes.
I think artichokes are as iconic of Italy as the Colosseum, the cliffs of Positano, pizza and – of course – a ride in a FIAT 500. There is no other place where you can taste artichokes in such a variety of delicious preparations. Try to type “carciofi ricetta” in your search bar. Right now Google reports over 6 million results.
So, if you feel nostalgic about Italy and you have access to good quality fresh artichokes, please invest a Sunday morning to cook these healthy flowers. In addition to the spectacular flavor, they are a nutritional powerhouse, full of good fibers and minerals.
Make sure to buy the youngest possible artichokes, with fresh looking stems and tightly packed leaves. Young or baby artichokes will be tender, cook easily and have hardly any choke.
Cleaning artichokes takes a bit of practice, so I suggest to play some music and enjoy your artisan moment.
- 2-4 artichokes
- 2 tablespoon finely chopped nepitella or other sweet mint
- 2 tablespoon finely chopped flat leaf parsley
- 1 garlic clove, finely minced
- 1 lemon
- extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper
Fill a bowl with water and squeeze half a lemon in it.
Break off the tough outer leaves to expose the cream color inner leaves. Don’t remove all leaves.
Trim the artichoke in a conical shape. This way you will remove the tough parts of the leaves while keeping the edible tender parts.
Using a sharp pairing knife peel the fibrous outer layer around the stem.
Using a small spoon, scrape out the hairy choke in the center of each flower. Transfer the cleaned artichokes into the bowl with lemon water. Make sure that they are completely submerged.
To make proper artichokes alla Romana you should use Nepitella, a wild mint which is sweet with undertones of basil. In the photo above I used the lemon water also to soak the wild nepitella which grows just outside my door.
If you live in an area where nepitella is not available, you need to use mint which tastes sweet. Some varieties of mint are bitter and will ruin your recipe. If you are not sure, just leave it out and only use parsley.
In a small bowl, stir together parsley, mint, garlic, 1/2 tablespoon olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Alternatively whiz the mixture in a small food processor.
Fill the inside of each artichoke heart with herb mixture, you will need about one teaspoon each. Sprinkle the artichokes with salt and pepper all over. Set aside the remaining herb mixture.
Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a pan just large enough to hold all the artichokes closely side by side, so that they can sit flat with their stem sides up. Arrange the artichokes in the pan with the stem up. Shorten the stems so it’s easy to cover the pan with a lid. Use the stems to stabilize the artichokes so they don’t break apart while cooking.
Bring the pan to a simmer over low heat, then add warm water to submerge the artichokes just below the heart, cover the artichokes with a piece of wet parchment paper to keep them moist and cover with a lid. Cook the artichokes until fork-tender, 20 to 30 minutes.
Remove from the heat and transfer artichokes to a platter. Reduce the cooking juices and use to drizzle the artichokes along with some fresh olive oil if needed and a sprinkling of reserved herb mixture. Serve tepid or at room temperature.
Vacations in Umbria
We have taken advantage of the winter rest to get ready for our seasonal tours. I hope you will consider joining us and share our passion for cooking, tasting and sharing all the beauty and talent Umbria has to offer to visitors.
We still have 2 places for our Fire and Food tour with potter extraordinaire Diana Baur, June 7-12. This unique 5 night experience includes not only a pit firing workshop with Diana and a cooking class with myself, but also a few wonderful experiences with local ceramicists and plenty food and wine.
Porchetta Tour in May is already fully booked. However, if you are planning to visit and there is at least 4 of you, we would be happy to host you and help you plan a trip around a village festival, visits to artisans, outdoor activities or any other of your passions, as long as they include wine and food of course!
Our traditional Olive Harvest Tour will take place between 24 and 28 October, 2019. Please check the tour page on our website and drop us a note for additional details and questions.