By Kate Zagorski.
If you have walked through any of Rome’s markets recently you can’t have missed the piles of gleaming, purple-green artichokes which seem to be around every corner. A staple of Roman cuisine, carciofi romaneschi hit their peak in the spring when they are at their absolute tastiest (and cheapest).
The locally-grown mammole variety do not have the spiky choke which usually needs to be removed, saving on preparation time and making them the perfect choice to make these deliciously tender Roman-style braised artichokes which are gently infused with lots of garlic, parsley and mentuccia (the local wild mint). If you cannot find mammole you can still prepare the recipe as outlined below but make sure to remove the choke.
Although you can trim the artichokes yourself, you can also take advantage of the fact that most market stalls will clean them for a small extra fee (well worth it to avoid the hassle). This recipe is perfect as a side dish as an accompaniment to roasted meat but could also be served as an antipasto with lots of crusty bread to soak up the oily, garlicky juices.
CARCIOFI ALLA ROMANA
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
16 leaves of mentuccia (wild mint)
1 small bunch of parsley
Extra virgin olive oil
Dry white wine
To prepare the artichokes, remove the hard exterior leaves, trim and remove the outer layer of the stalk (leaving about 5 cm length), then cut about the top quarter off the head and continue to strip the leaves until just the tender, pale yellow ones remain. Remove the spiky choke if necessary.
Cut the lemon in half and rub the artichokes with lemon juice to stop them turning black then fill a large bowl with cold water, squeeze in the lemon juice and add the rinds. Put the artichokes in the lemon water and leave for 15 minutes.
Drain the artichokes and lightly bang them onto a surface to open up the leaves. Use your fingers to make space in the centre or cut out the choke with a knife. Season the centre well with salt. Wrap half a garlic clove in about four leaves of mint and a few leaves of parsley. Stuff the garlic and herbs into the centre of the artichoke.
Stand the artichokes stalk side up in a saucepan, cover with equal parts of olive oil, white wine and water until everything except the stalk is covered. Cover, bring to the boil then cook on a medium flame for about an hour until tender. Check the artichokes are ready by inserting a toothpick into the base of the stalk – if it comes away easily they are ready to serve.
Serve hot or just warm, with extra bread to soak up the sauce.
Kate Zagorski has lived in Italy since 2000. Married to a food-obsessed Roman chef, she leads food tours and also works as a freelance food and travel writer.