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Spring Is Here! Time For Artichokes

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May 16, 2010 Food & Drink, Rome by Food 3 Comments

Spring is a wonderful time of year in Rome, especially because of all the fresh local products that are transformed into seasonal dishes in many great restaurants throughout the city. In this article, I would like to introduce you to the Jewish District – renowned for its traditional dishes, prepared with simple but tasty ingredients. One of its most famous dishes is: “Carciofi alla giudia”. Below I will contrast this dish with another typical roman dish, “carciofi alla romana”.

l ghetto bw rome Spring Is Here! Time For Artichokes

In The Jewish District

Only five minutes on foot from Campo de’ Fiori, the Jewish District is located right behind Piazza Mattei (better known as the Piazza with the Turtle Fountain), close to Teatro Marcello. It is easy to identify not only by the large Synagogue, but also by the small streets lined with characteristic restaurants serving kosher food.
Traditional Jewish cuisine is based on the handling of some ingredients in a particular way, in line with religious traditions, rendering the resulting dishes “kosher”. It is a little-known fact that the Jewish community is the oldest in Italy, going back to the second century BC. Thus inextricably linking Roman and Jewish cuisines with recepies that borrow from both, to form ancient Roman traditions. The dish I will present below, “carciofi alla giudia”, combines ancient Jewish traditions with typical Roman ingredients.

This famous dish is made with Roman artichokes, a vegetable recognised as being distinctive of the Lazio region. Word of its delicate taste and beneficial characteristics had made it as far as Egypt in ancient times: The artichoke is described as early as the first century AD, in the writings of the Roman authors Columella and Plinio.

artichoke Spring Is Here! Time For Artichokes

Carciofo alla Giudia

The Roman artichoke is different from other artichokes in that it is rather large, round, and spineless, therefore ideal to be fried. While you can find “carciofi alla romana” – another typical dish I will present below – all year round, “carciofi alla giudia” (which literally translates to “Jewish style artichokes”) are usually found only during spring. Even back in ancient Roman times, in April and May, one could go eat “carciofi alla giudia” in Rome’s Jewish district.

While “carciofi alla giudia” are rather simple to prepare,

The edible part of the artichoke is the center, called flower of the plant or “cimarolo”. To separate this delicate centre of the artichoke from the hard exterior of the vegetable, the tips of the leaves protecting it are cut off. This special technique is called “taglio a spirale”, and it constitutes the first step in preparing both dishes, “carciofi alla giudia” as well as “carciofi alla romana”.

Preparing these dishes is an art: Difficult and simple at the same time, it requires maximum accuracy. After having cut off the hard exterior tips of the leafs protecting the artichokes, we also need to remove the soft petal-like interior leaves, trim the fuzzy choke which is found underneath, and shorten the stem. Next, we soak the artichoke in water with lemon juice for a few minutes, to take the edge off the artichoke’ s characteristic bitterness.

 Spring Is Here! Time For Artichokes

Carciofi Alla Romana

Now, to prepare “carciofi alla giudia”, you simply fry the artichokes in oil and season with salt and pepper.

For “carciofi alla romana”, things are a little more complicated: The prepared artichoke is cooked, preferably by  vapour, and then the stuffing is prepared: Finely chopped parsley, “mentuccia” (a Roman herb similar to mint), and garlic are mixed with salt and pepper. Then, the artichoke is opened, and its core is filled with this stuffing, as well as one anchovy filet. To top off, a generous helping of excellent quality italian olive oil is drizzled over the finished artichoke.

The distinctive flavour of the “carciofo alla romana” is attained not only by preparing it with accuracy and artfulness, but also by choosing to add “mentuccia”, a herb used mainly in Rome and the Lazio region. This aromatic herb is similar to mint, but with an even fresher taste, rendering helpful digestive properties to that dish. Combined with the artichoke, the herb “mentuccia” is further said to be beneficial for the liver and to aid with stress. Perhaps the characteristic Roman carefreeness is due to their frequent consumption of “carciofi alla romana”!

Sara Pappalardo is a nutritionist from Italy, with a passion for traditional and healthy cuisine. Read more about her here.

To read the Italian version of this article, click through to Page 2

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Currently there are "3 comments" on this Article:

  1. dana says:

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    This description (it’s not really a recipe) describes a cross between carciogi “alla giudea” and carciofi “alla romana” — confusing to readers. Jewish style are simply twice-fried artichokes, and Roman style are stuffed as mentioned here, but then braised in olive oil, white wine, and water. It’s important to get these 2 separate dishes straight so as not to confuse readers.

    • Sara says:

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      Hi Dana,
      Sorry for taking so long to respond. Thank you for so attentively reading my article. You are completely right in pointing out the difference between the two different ways of preparing carciofi. Rather than simply providing recipes (which can be found plentiful on the internet and in cookbooks), my aim with this column is to show how the cuisine in Rome is a cross between different cultures, as opposed to static compartmentalised cuisines, and to point out the fascinating stories from which the ingredients and dishes emerge.
      Having only just started out with this column, we are grateful for your feedback and have changed the category title of the column to “Rome by Food”, to better reflect the perspective of my writing. Further, we have found a picture to better represent the dish.
      Thank you for taking the time to point this out, and we hope that you’ll come back to read more from “Rome by Food” in the future.
      All the best,

  2. Eli says:

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    I love eating “carciofi alla giudia” in Rome. One of the most unique dishes I have ever tasted. Nice to know about its history!!

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