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Apr 14, 2012 11:29 PM

Artichokes in Italy

I have been floored by the beauty of the artichokes at the veggie stands here in Italy. So far where I have been I have only seen them on one menu so I had to order it. It was roasted and cut into thirds. I am used to a simple steamed or boiled prep at home. What I am wondering is if you eat it the same way, that is petal by petal dragging each one through your teeth and separate out the choke etc? It was a bit challenging in this style to do that and I was feeling a bit awkward in a resto not using my knife and fork. I would love to clear the up before I get any more strange looks for eating not enough of it or the wrong bits.

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  1. Where are you now?

    Artichokes vary from one part of italy to another in shape and type. Where I live in Liguria, artichokes are not eaten by dragging the leaves through one's teeth. The outer leaves of our local type are completely inedible and need several layers of removal. They have terrible spines that can be more than an inch long and which can cause painful puncture wounds. In fact, the varietal is called "spinoso"

    All the outer leaves are stripped away, the worst of the remaining spines are lopped off until all that remains is a pale goose egg of tender leaves and the long stem, which is edible. This is often quartered and the inedible choke is pried out. before steaming or boiling the vegetable. It is served in quarters or eighths dressed with lemon, oil and salt, and eaten with a knife and fork, or chopped and tossed with pasta, or made into a filling for ravioli or tortes. (Sometimes the raw artichoke quarters are run across a mandolin and reduced to paper fine slices and eaten raw with a lemon-oil dressing).

    Roman and Sicilian artichokes are a much different type, and are prepared much differently. Some preparations reduce all the petals to mere stubs, others fry the entire vegetable flower.. I know artichokes are popular in the Veneto, and I would assume Piemonte, but I don't know how they are eaten there. I know of some Sicilian preparations where the artichoke petals are eaten one by one, but as far as I know they are eaten with a fork and not dragged through the teeth.

    Maybe somebody here has the definitives answer!

    There is an entire blog devoted to Italian artichokes, and while I don't know if it can be considered authoritative in any way or exhaustive, you might be able to match where you are with the type of artichoke you had and learn the traditional preparations for where you are.

    2 Replies
    1. re: barberinibee

      The artichoke I had was in Bologna and I have not seem them since. We are currently in Riva di Garda (in the pouring rain, which is really hampering Our biking) heading to near Verona tomorrow. Not sure if we will see them there, but I know they will be in Rome and I plan to indulge. The one that I had, I cannot see how the entire leaves could have been eaten, even the more tender middle ones had a typical spike on top. I did manage to eat it with a knife and fork, albeit not with a great deal of class.

      1. re: cleopatra999

        The sum total of my knowledge about artichokes in Emilia-Romagna is that a particular kind is grown southeast of Bologna near a hilltown called Brisaghella. I've eaten pastas with artichokes in Bologna, but I don't recall every eating them "solo."

        I don't know when artichoke season in Rome ends.

        i'm pretty sure they have lots of artichokes around Verona, but I don't know the season for eating them. You might want to be on the lookout for asparagus if you like it.

    2. If you're coming to Rome, you're in for a treat. It's the height of artichoke season, and you can have them prepared all sorts of ways.

      They are never eaten as they are in the States, by steaming and dragging your teeth across the leaves. Instead, the tough outer leaves are trimmed away, until you get to the tender inner leaves and heart. In Rome, one of the most delicious ways to eat them is Carciofi alla Giudea, or deep fried. They are an old Jewish speciality and the artichokes are double fried, so that they open up like a flower until crisp and golden. You can order these at Gigetto and Sora Margherita in the Ghetto.

      Another Roman way of eating them is Carciofi alla Romana. The trimmed whole arichokes are slowly stewed, having been seasoned with garlic, salt, pepper and wild mint. Perilli in Testaccio makes them perfectly

      They are also used this time of year to dress pasta, and also sauteed with lamb innards (coratella). (also at Perilli)

      I'll attach a photo of an artichoke I trimmed last week, to make pasta. These artichokes were actually "Apollo" from Umbria. A bit spikier than the Roman variety, but just as tender.

      7 Replies
      1. re: minchilli

        Elizabeth, Do you mean to say that they are trimmed completely of the choke and spikes tips or one would just cut around this areas? We have plans to eat in the Jewish ghetto and at Perili.

        @bb I love asparagus too, and have been watching for them on menus as well.

        1. re: cleopatra999

          There may be some choke inside, but much of it is edible. Whatever you don't want to eat is easily removed with your knife and fork. The later you get in the season, the more choke you find. The carciofi alla giudia may contain choke, but, as I said, it's not a problem. If the artichoke is properly trimmed, everything external, including the stem, is edible.

          1. re: mbfant

            How long does the season usually last. I won't arrive in Rome until May 22. Will I still see them in the markets? Restaurants?


            1. re: jangita

              That's quite late, but if the weather is still cool you may have a chance. Restaurants whose reputation for artichokes draws people from all corners of the globe manage to have them all the time. It's don't ask-don't tell. I would guess they're from Brittany, so it could be worse. In any case, the season is peaking right now -- prices are lower and the little ones, which will be put up in jars, are already out.

              1. re: mbfant

                So I guess I am just not a huge fan of the way the artichoke is prepared and eaten in Rome. I ate fried I the ghetto, alla Romana, and in la vingarola. The Romana had the best flavour for me and was well trimmed but a few spikes and woodiness were still found and I generally have textural issues with food. The outer leaves of the fried were divine but again there were spikes on the inner leaves. I did not ever find another place to try them raw so I cannot comment on those. I still love the prep I am used to in North America I am afraid!

                1. re: cleopatra999

                  try the artichoke salad at Roscioli.