During our supper club meal on Tuesday, I sat next to a woman who grew up in Rome. We got to talking about Italian artichokes and signed very dramatically (also, accurately) over the fact that you simply cannot get in America, the small, tender chokes that abound in Italy. Both of us desperately wish we could.
I've written about this before, my adoration of Italian artichokes and my sorrow over having to make do with American Globes which never really cut the butter.
But, when spring comes and fresh artichokes with plump stems can be found, we who long for their continental brethren make do as best we can.
The woman from Rome told me about spending a recent Easter there. Artichokes were everywhere, and she ate barrels of them. Carciofi alla giudia ("Jewish style") which is a deep-fried artichoke and originated in Rome's Jewish community, and a version of carciofi alla romana, hers braised in olive oil rather than steamed in water and wine.
Last night, I peered into my crisper drawer and pulled out the two enormous chokes I'd bought a few days prior. I got out a sharp knife and a serrated spoon, the better to trim the spiky leaf tips and clear the thistly hair from the heart. I set up an acidulated water bath so that before the denuded hearts could brown, I could dunk them into a lemony pool. And I got out my heavy Lodge and a big vat of olive oil.
I picked some mint and basil and chives and parsley from my garden and chopped them fine. Mixed them with crumbled feta and pressed garlic and salt and pepper. Took a deep breath because my god did that concoction smell heavenly. And then I stuffed half into each cored out artichoke and sealed them up tightly once more and put them stem up in a shallow pool of olive oil that I'd poured into my Lodge.
After a couple hours in the oven, regularly basted with oil, these beauties emerged, and I ate one today for lunch.
I ate it while standing up, leaning over the bowl which sat on my cutting board, and I closed my eyes and gently gripped each leaf between fingers and teeth and pulled. Ever so slowly to get just the tender knob of chokey flesh from the end, and of course I saved the best for last which is the heart.
It was perfectly cooked; al dente, really. Its herby feta hood paired scrumptiously with the heart's earthiness, and I savored each bite.
Not an Italian choke, but prepared like one made it suffice just fine.