Carciofi alla Romana (Roman-style Braised Artichokes), inspired by our travels to Italy, my extended family, and an aroma while strolling through an old train station in central Rome!
Song of the day: "Come Nelle Favole" by Vasco Rossi.
Carciofi, artichokes, it is what we call them in Italian and it is artichoke season and a plentiful one at that! If you have been following us we have quite a few recipes coming and one special recipe from my father, Stuffed Artichokes di Americo that is already posted. Nicoletta has been posting pictures on social media showing the bountiful harvest in Italy of these beautiful lotus-like vegetables that I would have to say are amazingly delicious, but I am biased because I am a fan!
I have to say that I love working with The Italian Centre Shop. It is always exciting to go into their stores and see what is coming in. I was talking to Ryan (marketing manager ITC) about recipes for this month and telling him I remember seeing the baby artichokes in the produce section, and that I have had a dream if you want to call it that, or maybe a passion to create these artichokes that I have heard so much about from Nicoletta. The excitement was shared and a plan in the works. I even saw these delectable carciofi when we went to this place called Mercato Centrale. A place filled with amazing food places run by well-known chefs. It is truly amazing not only in the food experience but also in the ambiance, as it is set in an old part of the Termini train station in Rome, Italy. The vaulted antique mortar and brick ceiling host a wonderful echo of people enjoying wonderful foods, drink, and great conversation. So, to make a long story short, I saw these little artichokes at one of the vendors there and I was taken by how moist, tender and beautiful they looked, not to mention that rich aroma of olive oil and cooked artichoke had my mouth watering endlessly. Nicoletta told me that her father Franco, my father in law, is well known for his art of cooking artichokes and now I had the resources in the palm of my hand thanks to Franco sharing his recipe.
My job, to develop and hopefully do justice to these baby artichokes or carciofi as we call them in Italian. So, here we go, very simple according to Franco. Some baby artichokes, breadcrumbs, garlic, mint, and to preserve these beauties, lemon. I did want to mention that typically in Rome they have the real deal of artichokes that are big and oh so naturally tender, however, because we are not in Italy, we use the next best thing and I feel blessed that The Italian Centre Shop had these baby artichokes and I know they are going to work just fine. Will they be exactly the same flavor as those in Italy? Not really, because that country has this rich terracotta soil and that enhances the flavor of anything that grows in it, and this I know from true life experience. The ones I bought are grown in California and I am going to put lots of passion and love into the mix, so I know these are going to be spot on in flavor.
Look at these carciofi in the lemon water, they look so peaceful and serene, almost zen-like, preserved in time. Before I put them in that lemon water bath, I cleaned the outer tough dry leaves, cut off the stem and top to get rid of the tips. After that, I spread them open a bit, this will create that cavity I need for the scrumptious breadcrumb and herb filling. TIP: Before adding the filling, remember to remove the choke if your artichokes have it. It is the "beard" the artichokes normally have in the middle.
Before you fill these carciofi you have to drain them to get the water off them, or else the filling will be too soggy and will fall apart. The filling is according to Franco who, I may add, recites beautiful Latin poetry and has written two books, definitely a Renaissance man. I have often thought that I would love to create a fusion of modern percussion in the background to accompany his rhythmic resonance of some extraordinary old latin masters poems. Okay, got a bit sidetracked, poetry and percussion, a sweet weakness of mine!
Let's get back to the Carciofi alla Romana (Roman-Style Braised Artichokes). So Franco says to mix the breadcrumbs with some minced mint, fresh Italian parsley, garlic, and to get it together, some wonderful good quality extra virgin, cold pressed olive oil. A quick mix with a spoon and a test in your hands to see if it is moist enough, if not just add a bit more olive oil until you see the filling come together. Now all you have to do is fill the carciofi and place them top side down in the pan, carefully, of course, this is a very delicate process, with some med to hot heat and olive oil just to crisp the top a bit and enhance the flavor for the braising liquid. Let's talk about this braising liquid, again simple, very much a motto in Italian cooking: some water, evo oil, salt, and pepper, that's it. This goes in after you have sauteed the tops. Leave them upside down and just pour the braising liquid in. I filled it less than halfway up the artichokes and with heat nice and low covered it with a lid. Keep that lid on, we need that steam to stay in. This is going to make these Carciofi alla Romana (Roman-Style Braised Artichokes) so tender and moist, and that liquid is going to be so packed with flavor!
I just love the aroma of cooked artichokes. It is luxuriously rich and robust and has my mouth watering already. I love how the braising liquid has thickened due to some of the breadcrumb mixture seeping in and this is not going to be wasted. It is going to be lovely drizzled on top of these carciofi and scooped with some bread. I can't wait to try this!
Oh wow, that flavor is so deep and rich. The earthiness of the artichoke is subdued by the richness of its oils and the braising liquid. They are so tender and moist. I love the way they just burst in flavor as you bite in and it is an effortless experience, to say the least, as that low heat and steam encapsulated cooking bubble has really worked its magic on the wonderful bulbs of delicious goodness! That braising sauce and its peppery notes just add enough spice and flavor to the mix, still keeping it well in balance. If you are in your local grocery store or if, by chance, you happen to have an Italian store near you, take a gander into the produce aisle and if you see these cute baby artichokes, snap them up and you too can create a beautiful Italian dish as we have done here.
Brush up on your Italian so when your guests are sitting at the table you can serve the first dish announcing, "today we have Carciofi alla Romana (Roman-Style Braised Artichokes)".
P.s. Just want to thank the Italian Centre Shop for the wonderful ingredients and the opportunity to share our passion to cook. Also, a great big thank you to my wife Nicoletta for opening up my world and connecting me back to my roots. Not excluding anyone, a big thank you also to Franco my father in law, for sharing his recipe and passion for cooking with us!
Song of the day: "Come Nelle Favole" by Vasco Rossi.Print