On a recent jaunt to Rome, I nearly OD’d on artichokes.
I know, I know, do I have no self-control? It’s just that Rome is more than the capital of Italy… It’s the capital of artichokes! The Roman dialect word for artichokes is cimaroli, also called mammole, and this tender variety is round and without that prickly point of other artichokes!
Where I live, in Genoa, the dialect word for carciofi is articiocche (pronounced like in English: artichokay!) You can find artichokay everywhere, especially at this time of year. They like to eat them raw in Liguria, maybe with some thin slices of parmesan cheese on top and a savoury extra virgin olive oil, as a salad.
But Rome, people, is where the artichoke can become arti-shock, as you find yourself eating them at lunch and dinner, fixed a million different ways (no, I did not have them with my espresso in the morning!)
On this festive Rome weekend, I also visited several old-style trattorias – the kind of places that have you wondering why there aren’t more of them. Where did they all go? Crowded (with locals!), serving up homestyle dishes of exquisite, authentic flavors, these places have you wanting to run back to the kitchen to see if somehow your grandmother is in there.
The classic antipasto buffet features some delectable fried artichokes.
But my dining companion and I were of different opinions about our artichokay antipasto… The two most famous kind in Rome: carciofo alla romana (stuffed and steamed), and carciofo alla giudia (‘Jewish-style’ artichokes), my favorite! The old Jewish ghetto in Rome is one of the most restaurant-dense areas in the city, charming and gastronomically fascinating.
In the carciofo alla romana (left) you will find parsley, mint, garlic, olive oil, a sprinkling of breadcrumbs. The carciofo alla giudia, on the other hand, is fried to a crackling crisp, its leaves sometimes crumbling like parchment between your hand and your mouth.
But why stop at the antipasto? How about this modified gricia?
These rigatoni alla gricia (with guanciale, pecorino and black pepper) have been spruced up with none other than… artichokes! Talk about a one-plate meal. This is even better than amatriciana, which has tomatoes, a New World ingredient, and so more recent than the shepherds’ preferred gricia.
And as long as we are on an artichoke spree, arti-choke me with a secondo of spezzatino and… what else? Arichokes!
No, I did not have tiramisu with artichokes. Dessert was remarkably artichoke-free!
One big problem, the only one: what wine – if any! – can we drink with the artichokes? Have you ever experienced this? Try eating a nice salad of raw artichokes and then a sip of wine… Some kind of incredible chemical reaction takes place in your mouth, confusing all the tastes. Sometimes you get a sickeningly sweet, sugary taste, other times it’s metal or even bitter. Like they used to say when doing experiments on TV: do not try this at home! In general, I’d stay away from reds and maybe go with a fuller-bodied white, say a Sardinian Vermentino or a spicy Gewurtztraminer. And if you want to stay in the Lazio region, try Casale del Giglio’s Petit Manseng.