Yes, ’tis the season for artichokes. The market abounds with them, everyone is eating them, and if you want to decorate the home with them you can even buy them in bouquet form. Quite different from the ones available outside of Italy, these can be eaten whole (stem, “choke” and all) without the need to scrape them through your teeth, a gesture that Italians find most uncivilized!
In the euphoria of the sudden carciofo abundance I buy some at the market and figure I could use a reminder on how to prep them. So before entering my apartment building I decide to ask my girlfriends, sitting at their usual table at the café, for some advice . .
“Vai su, pia’n cortello e’n limone e torna giu’ co’ du’ carciofi.” (Roman dialect for “Go upstairs, grab a knife and a lemon and come back down with two artichokes.”)
We have un caffé together, hands messy with lemon juice to keep them from turning black from the artichokes. And the hands-on refresher course I get on how to prep and cook carciofi is…
1. Rinse. Prepare a bowl of cold water with half a lemon squeezed into it.
2. Cut and peel stems, placing them in the lemony water.
3. Bending leaves back one by one, snap off midway on the leaf, and discard top part. Continue until all the dark green leaves have been broken off, and then cut off the top third, whittling away the dark green from the base and the chewy tips of the leaves. Place in lemony water.
4. Shove some chopped garlic, a few breadcrumbs, mint, salt and pepper into the center of the artichoke, and place in a pan with bottom generously covered in a 50/50 water / olive oil mixture, at medium heat . . .
5. . . . and (girlfriends’ secret!) tear a paper bag open and cover the entire pan with it before fitting the lid on. Tear off the excess paper that sticks out so it doesn’t catch fire! The idea here is to trap the steam inside so the artichokes cook evenly. Serve when soft to the fork.