May 4, 2014

Artichokes: The Italian Way

I cannot tell you how excited I am at the market in Spring in Italy. We have so many incredible seasonal treats which are all at their peak. Often people are surprised at the flavors of the food in Italy. I think in the USA often our food is grown in greenhouses and sent miles and miles across country and refrigerated before it gets to the local grocery store. I am sure most people cannot tell you when something is even in season, as so many things are available all year long.

I advise to buy local and buy seasonal. Support your local farmer's market and your palate will be rewarded.

I am originally from California so grew up having artichokes, but usually there was one size, large and it was boiled and served in our house with mayonaise to dip the leaves in. We probably ate more mayonaise than artichoke.

I do remember driving through Berkeley in the 70's and there as a cute little place serving fried artichokes, but do not remember ever stopping to try them.

In Italy you find artichokes sold with the stems still attached, sometimes long stems. The reason is that the inside of the stem is an extension of the heart of the artichoke, which is the real meat of the blossom.

These spiny artichokes were in the market in Palermo. Where we stay in Menfi, at the south end of the island an hour from Palermo, the farms are filled with fields of these artichokes.
We had them the traditional way, baked in the coals. The outside leaves protect the tender inside and you pull off the burnt leaves to enjoy the heart.

These are Tuscan artichokes, medium sized. The tough outer leaves are pulled off and the pointy tips cut off. Then  you can eat raw, sliced thinly as a carpaccio with lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, shaved parmigiano cheese and a pinch of salt.

We also eat them raw cut into 1/4's and then dipped into extra virgin olive oil and salt.

My mother-in-law's recipe for fried artichokes is still a favorite and on the same page on my website is the recipe for Leo's preserved artichoke hearts. For that recipe I use the smaller artichokes, you can see by the photos on the page, how to cut and clean them. My husband adores these crispy hearts, and I make about 300 a year.

the trimmed artichokes and the bowl with the tough leaves

after resting for a night in vinegar and salt, ready to be packed in oil

This year I have gone crazy for stewing the artichokes in my new clay pots I got while down in Puglia, from the Samarelli family. I adore cooking in clay, but it is not necessary for this recipe.

In Tuscany the recipe is called Carciofi Ritti.  Ritti means standing up.

Using the same technique to remove the tougher outer leaves on the artichoke as shown on my website link, do not cut the artichokes into pieces, but leave whole.

Press your finger down into the center, these smaller artichokes have no choke, if your's do, remove with a tiny spoon.

Then fill the artichoke with some chopped parsley and garlic and some salt. In Rome they add mint, which i think is a wonderful flavor with artichokes.

Place the artichokes flat side down into a pot and add about 1 inch of extra virgin olive oil and then one inch of water.

Sprinkle the artichokes with some salt and pepper and cover the pot and cook until you can pierce the artichoke with a knife.

I could go on and on with artichoke recipes.

Another seasonal recipe I make often is a stew called Garmugia in Tuscany and Vignarola in Rome.
A true celebration of the season with fresh peas, asparagus, artichokes and fresh fava beans.

Come in Spring to visit next time and you know what to order.


  1. I am so thrilled to read this post Judy, since I am hoping and praying that there will still be fresh artichokes in the markets when I visit Rome in the last 2 weeks of May (that is still spring to me, even if it will be hot!). I adore artichokes in EVERYTHING and by themselves! I had them in my garden, but the deer ate every one of them! You're so right about eating fresh from one's garden or from a local farmer's market. I'm sure those in Italy are nearly orgasmic (sorry). But I cannot wait to visit them in Rome and Venice. I look forward to meeting you someday and enrolling in your classes and tours of my beloved Italy!

  2. when in Rome- head for the Ghetto they have a magical way with artichokes. Alla romana are like the tuscan ritti--- whole cleaned artochokes basically slow cooked in oil-- then the twice fried Alla Giudei, which come out like chips.

  3. I wish in CT I could find artichokes like this. Here they sell them so big, because bigger is better, right? Joking. But if I see them at my farmers market I will try the Carciofi Ritti. I will be having artichoke dreams until then... thank you for sharing the recipes.

  4. Beautiful artichokes! I love the clay pot--must get one of those.

  5. Fantastic, thanks, Judy. Vicki and I love artichokes, particularly in Italy!

  6. So many wonderful ways to prepare artichokes it's hard to decide where to start - thanks Judy!

  7. If I could only get my hands on them! I would like to do some yummy dish with them.