Italians are crazy for their artichokes and at this time of year they are everywhere, in the markets, restaurants and homes. You often see the hearts of these tender young artichokes for sale already peeled, bobbing around in buckets of water and lemon. Pasta with artichoke, raw artichoke salad, marinated artichokes with cured ham, seabass with artichoke and white wine. Over in the UK you will find these small, purplish-green spiky beauties in food markets and on line from suppliers like Natoora. They come from the sunnier areas of Italy such as Sicily, Sardinia, Lazio and Liguria and are related to the thistle and cardoon family. Some varieties do grow well in the UK and have huge silvery grey leaves that look great in the garden but do pick the buds when young to use in this way.
How to prepare them – Be Brutal!
The last thing you want it to be chewing on fibrous artichoke leaves, be brutal and chop away leaving only the tender heart. Using a sharp knife first remove the outer leaves, tough end of the stem and the tips of the remaining leaves. Scrape away any remaining tough parts with a sharp knife. Young artichokes rarely have a fluffy choke in the centre but if there are any downy hairs present clean them away with a teaspoon. As you cut them wipe the outsides with lemon juice and then put into water with more lemon juice – it will stop them turning brown.
Here’s a video of the chef preparing them at the wonderful Ristorante La Campana, in Rome.
To make Roman style artichokes with mint and parsley
I first ate these in Ristorante Alfredo but it is very popular all over Rome. Traditionally this dish is made with mentuccia or wild mint which grows only in central Italy. Its small light green leaves have a strong aroma and taste. If you don’t live in Italy or grow your own mentuccia, normal mint makes a good substitute.
Mix together the finely chopped garlic, herbs, salt and pepper and stuff the mixture into the prepared artichoke centres.
Choose a saucepan that will accommodate all the artichokes tightly together and pour in the olive oil. Carefully pack the artichokes in the pan, heads down and stalks up. Add the water and, if you have any of the herb mixture left over add this too. Place the pan over a medium heat, cover, bring to the boil then simmer for 45 minutes or until the artichokes are tender when pierced with a knife. Serve warm with bread to mop up the juices.