Seriously, the Romans are very proud of their artichokes, and we just happened to be there during the peak of artichoke season! Artichokes were everywhere, and the Romans have figured out every possible way of preparing them!
I will go ahead and admit that I have limited artichoke knowledge. I grew up in Texas eating them steamed, dipped in a garlic, mayonaise, lemon juice and melted butter concoction. You know the drill, peel off a leaf, dip it and scrape it with your teeth. Get down to the heart and spend at least 20 minutes removing all the artichoke 'fur', and then dip that into the now cold butter mixture and eat it as well.
This has been my tried and true artichoke method and, up until Rome, it has worked for me.
So, the owners of the apartment we rented in Rome are Pietro and Marina. They go out of their way to ensure that their guests experience the BEST of what Rome has to offer, so me being me, I asked about typical Roman food. One thing leads to another, and Marina makes a phone call to Pietro and next thing we know, we have a real live Roman cooking night set up!! I tell them I want to TASTE Rome, so naturally, artichokes are on the menu.
Pietro arrives with his rolling shopping bag full of goodies and proceeds to unload some gorgeous stuffed artichokes:
Pietro had made these before he got to the apartment, so I didn't get to participate in the creation, but I got to drool over them while he told me how he stuffed them, but unfortunatly, I don't remember what he told me, except for parmesean, walnuts and some other delicious things:
I mentioned in passing that I would love to learn how to make the fried artichokes I had been seeing around Rome, so Pietro marched us out of the apartment to the fruit and vegetable market across the street where we found these:
I just love the way artichokes look, but apparantly, that is NOT how they come! Pietro said something in Italian (of course) to the adorable little man who worked there and he disappeared into the back and came back with this:
Isn't he so cute?? I think he didn't know what to say when I started snapping away with my camera, but he was so sweet and nodded enthusiastically when I kept saying 'Grazie, Grazie'.
Another thing I learned, embarassing I know, is that artichokes do NOT grow from trees. They grow up from the ground on large stalks! I didn't REALLY think they grew on trees, but honestly, I didn't know cause I have never given it much thought.
So, here was our chosen specimen:
As mentioned earlier, I have never done anything more than minor trimming and steaming of an artichoke. Pietro, however, took artichoke preparation to a whole different level. His hands were moving so fast, he cleaned that artichoke like noone's business. From what I could tell from the blur of hands and knife before me, he chopped off all the stems and stalk:
Next, he pulled off the majority of the outer leaves:
Then he chopped off its top, like so:
Next, he peeled the stem:
Finally he quartered it, and with a flick of his wrist, removed all the pesky artichoke fur from the heart:
So, that's it! Now we all can EFFORTLESSLY clean artichokes!
Then it was back to the kitchen, where we made a simple batter for the artichokes. Tipo OO flour, olive oil and water:
Heat up some oil in a wok or large pan, and dip the artichoke quarters in the batter:
Then put them in the oil and fry them until they are nice and golden, like so:
Needless to say, we gobbled these up! Perfect dipped in a garlickly aioli or just eaten plain with a squeeze of lemon and sea salt!
I had so many artichokes, prepared so many different ways that night, it was a REVELATION.
Sitting there in Rome with my husband and sister and new friends, Pietro and Marina, drinking good Sicilian red wine and eating good Roman food, in that moment, life was perfect and I could not have been more content!