Just a little less than two years ago, during the August of 2014, Juan and I escaped from the cold Argentine winter and plunged straight into the hot, humid Italian summer.
It had been almost 7 years since our last trip to Europe (when we’d met during our university exchange back in end-2007), and I was ecstatic to return to the continent that I’d fallen in love with. More than anything, I was psyched to once again step foot in Italy, the boot-shaped country whose culture was so full of charm and whose food I found deliciously alluring.
For 10 days that summer, we traveled around Rome, Naples and the beautiful Amalfi Coast, whose breathtaking views and winding trails will always remain with me. While the coastal towns left me giddy with their gorgeous landscapes, it was in the Italian capital, Rome, where my tastebuds came alive.
We’d landed in the eternal city of Rome on a Saturday afternoon, and on our first night out we headed to the quaint Trastevere neighborhood upon our hotel concierge’s recommendation. Walking around the cobbled streets, we found ourselves spoilt for choice; there were bars and restaurants all vying for our attention, but we eventually decided on one that seemed cozy with its tables and chairs all placed a little too close together. But it was charming anyway, and we settled for an alfresco table to watch Romans and tourists alike strolling by, and to breathe in the warm summer air.
I don’t remember much of what we ordered for our mains that night, but what I remember very clearly, though, was looking through the antipasti menu, my finger moving down the options one by one, until I stopped at carciofi alla giuda. Deep-fried artichokes, was exactly what it said (at least in the English translation).
I was intrigued; I’d only ever once eaten artichokes, but they had been preserved in some kind of vinaigrette. Deep-fried artichokes sounded decadent, delightful and everything I would expect of Italy. Apparently deep-fried artichokes are one of the best-known dishes of Roman-Jewish cuisine (or at least Wikipedia tells me so). And so when the waiter came over to take our orders in his sexy Italian accent, I told him excitedly that we were going to order those deep-fried artichokes. Oh yes. Yum. Yum. YUM.
When the artichokes arrived, we were already starving. They didn’t look like very much, but when we bit into them, they were crispy on the outside, full of flavor and finger-licking oily. So good. Soooo gooood.
It is almost the end of fall here in Argentina and artichokes are aplenty. Last week while grocery shopping, I saw artichokes at the vegetable grocer’s – and seeing them in their raw, unadulterated form was just beautiful. They looked like purplish-green flowers, plump and ripe and ready to be cooked.
I had to buy them – I knew it the moment I saw them, all resplendent in their natural glory. The first thing I thought about when I bought them were those deep-fried artichokes I’d eaten two years ago back in that restaurant in the Roman neighborhood of Trastevere. I was determined to re-create those memories.
However, I’m not keen on deep frying – firstly, because it uses such an incredible amount of oil, and secondly because the oil splashes all over my kitchen wall.
So, what’s the next best alternative? Roasting them, of course.
You begin by pre-heating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (or 180 degrees Celsius). Next, fill a large bowl with water and squeeze the juice from half a lemon, throwing in the squeezed lemon slices into the bowl of water as well.
Working on one artichoke each time, begin removing the harder, thick outer leaves until you reach the tender leaves in the middle. Use a sharp knife to trim the top of the artichoke leaves and then trim the stem as well. Slice the artichoke into half vertically and remove all the furry artichoke bits in the middle as well as any sharp baby leaves.
Now, make sure to rub all the cut parts with lemon and then place the artichoke halves in the bowl of lemon water (this is important so the artichokes don’t oxidize – make sure you don’t skip this step!)
Next, pour olive oil in a large baking sheet and distribute the artichoke halves evenly on the sheet, before squeezing the rest of the lemon juice over them and sprinkling them with lemon zest, salt and pepper and placing the garlic slices around the artichokes.
Roast artichokes for 30 minutes, flipping them to the other side halfway through.
In the meantime, heat up a little olive oil in a skillet and fry some breadcrumbs until golden.
Once artichokes are done, sprinkle them with breadcrumbs and some more lemon zest and then tuck in!
I hope you’ll enjoy the artichokes as much as we did!
- 3 large artichokes
- 1 large lemons, for the zest and the juice
- ⅔ cups of extra virgin olive oil
- 3 large garlic cloves, sliced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup of gluten-free breadcrumbs
- Pre-heat oven to 350 deg. Fahrenheit (180 deg. Celsius)
- Fill a large bowl with water and slice the lemon in half, squeezing the juice into the bowl. Throw the squeezed lemon slices into the bowl as well.
- Working on one artichoke each time, use your fingers to pull off the darker, tougher outer leaves until you reach the tender leaves.
- Use a sharp knife to trim the top of the artichoke leaves and to cut the stem. Slice the artichoke in half vertically and remove all the furry artichoke bits in the middle as well as any sharp baby leaves.
- Rub all the cut parts with lemon and then place the artichoke halves in the bowl with the lemon water (this is important so the artichokes don't oxidize!)
- In a large baking sheet, pour the olive oil and distribute the artichoke halves evenly. Squeeze the rest of the lemon juice over the artichokes and sprinkle them with lemon zest, salt and pepper before placing garlic slices around.
- Roast artichokes for 30 minutes, flipping them to the other side halfway through.
- Meanwhile heat up a little olive oil in a skillet and fry the breadcrumbs until golden.
- Sprinkle roasted artichokes with fried breadcrumbs before serving.