Carciofi alla giudia

Carciofi alla giudia (Roman Jewish-Style Fried Artichokes)

In antipasti, Lazio, Spring by Frank Fariello15 Comments

Carciofi alla giudia, or Jewish-style artichokes, are one of the signature dishes of Roman Jewish cooking and a very popular dish in Rome. I have rarely seen this dish in Italian restaurants in the US, perhaps because it is a bit tricky to make, or because it can’t be made ahead, or because of the quality of artichokes here–it is a dish that relies almost entirely on the taste of the actual artichoke–there’s no way to dress it up with other ingredients to make it taste better.

Anyway, you begin by trimming an artichoke in the typical Italian way, cutting off all the inedible bits (including most of the leaves), peel the stem and scoop out the choke. Then you spread the artichoke out as much as you can by hand—to do this successfully, you will need fresh and rather young artichokes that are ‘flexible’. You then fry the artichoke gently in extra-virgin olive oil, starting on the sides:

Carciofi alla giudia

As the artichoke softens, place it ‘face down’ in the oil, little by little pressing it down until it spreads out almost flat and the artichoke is tender. To check for tenderness, pierce the artichoke at its thickest point with a paring knife. If you can remove the knife from the artichoke without picking it up, it should be done.

Now, just before serving, comes the tricky part: dip you hang in lukewarm water and sprinkle it into the frying pan to provoke a splattering, covering the frying pan very quickly to prevent the oil from splattering all over the stovetop (and the cook!) When things have died down, you’re done. The result is a lovely open “flower” whose taste is indescribable and whose texture is an amazing mixture of crispy and soft.

Notes

Carciofi alla giudiaIf you are ever in Rome, the place to eat carciofi alla giudia is an area referred to as the “Ghetto”, which had traditionally been the Jewish section of town. (I lived right next to the Ghetto for the first six years or so of our time in Rome, in small square named piazza San Paolo alla Regola.) There are a number of places that specialize in Roman Jewish cooking, which has a long history—Jews have lived in Rome for over 2000 years, since the days of the Empire. It is an interesting cuisine.

The ghetto itself has an interesting history. Starting in the year 1500 Jewish Romans had to live in a particular walled in area of town, which was called the ‘ghetto’ (hence our word). They had to be back by sundown, at which time the gates were shut. And on Sundays, they were forced to go to Mass in a local church and hear about how they were responsible for killing Christ and were sure to go to hell if they did not convert to Christianity. (But I guess there were worse places to live if you were Jewish.) Anyway, thankfully all that came to an end in the mid-19th century. The wall was torn down long ago and today the ghetto is actually a rather tony area, located as it is right in the center of town. An enormous (and rather pompous) synagogue was built around the turn of the century and today serves as the center of the Roman Jewish community. The church is still there, by the way, and it is located among some of the most interesting and accessible ruins in Rome, the remains of the Portico d’Ottavia (see photo above). Right next to the Portico is the most famous of the Roman Jewish restaurants, called Giggetto. It’s very touristy but the food is actually quite good. Down the same street a bit is the Taverna del Ghetto, which is the place the locals go (or at least they used to; a friend to whom I recommended the place came back telling me that it is now overrun with American tourists…)

It can be hard to get good artichokes in the US. Try to find ones that have leaves still tightly bound together. If the artichoke leaves are open and spottled, then don’t buy it, it’s too old. Unfortunately, that describes about 90% of the artichokes you’ll find in the supermarkets here, at least outside California.

There are other great ways to enjoy Italian-style artichokes, like carciofi alla romana, the other signature Roman artichoke dish, or cut into wedges and deep fried, the way Angelina used to make them. If you are lucky enough to find really fresh, baby artichokes, they are lovely cut into thin slices and eaten raw in pinzimonio—dipped in olive oil seasoned with salt and pepper.

Frank FarielloCarciofi alla giudia (Roman Jewish-Style Fried Artichokes)

Comments

  1. Pingback: Pollo fritto per Chanukà (Hannukah Fried Chicken) | Memorie di Angelina

  2. Elizabeth Minchilli

    I love carciofi alla giudea too, but almost never make them at home. I guess that’s because it’s so easy to me to head over to the Ghetto. I love Sora Margherita too, as well as Gigetto. The way that the artichokes are made in restaurants though, is a bit different. They deep fry them, in pretty hot oil, in two stages. The first frying takes place earlier in the day, and lasts for about 12 to 20 minutes, depending on the size, tenderness, and type of artichoke used. They are then drained, and left to cool. Then, just before serving them, the artichokes are place back in boiling hot oil, the leaves get very crispy and crunchy. Sora Margherita uses a slightly smaller fryer, with a higher temp oil, so theirs are super crisp.

    1. Frank Fariello

      Thanks for stopping by, Elizabeth! That seems like a very practical way to make them in a restaurant—or indeed, to make them ahead for company.

  3. Claudia

    I looked for these all over Rome (especially in the Ghetto) last summer but alas they were not in season and no one had them. It’s still on my list – and now looking at those artichokes meeting the oil – I feel like I need to embrace these.

  4. Frank

    Many thanks, folks, for all the wonderful comments! Do try this recipe when you have the chance–if the artichokes are fresh and tender, they'll be delicious made this way.

    @Browsing, Yes, Sor Margherita is a great restaurant! Also love Al pompiere, Piperno and, even if it is very touristy, Giggetto.

    @Gabriela: What a coincidence! La Torricella was one of my favorite places to eat when I was living in Rome! I even mention it in my recent post on seppioline alla griglia, which was one of my favorite things to order there… Great memories!

  5. Gabriela

    There's this very local restaurant in Testaccio, a neighborhood in Rome, called la Torricella. It serves the most delicious Carciofi alla giudia I've ever had. Unfortunatelly, the artichoke season doesn't last all year!! Everything else in the restaurant is DE-licious, by the way!!!

  6. Drick

    as always, enjoyed reading this. have never heard of artichokes prepared this way and it sounds like I may never get to experience it (being fresh is the key). interesting read of Rome

  7. Ruth

    Wow, really falling in love with artichokes at the mo. Cant have pizza without them on. Just need to be brave enough and prepare some by following your post. fingers crossed!

  8. Ciao Chow Linda

    Oh these are one of my favorite things to eat in Rome. But you're right, here in the states, you just don't find them on restaurant menus. But they have so many more varieties of artichokes in Italy than we have here. I once tried to make these, but the artichokes were just tough – not crispy like they should have been. Yours look dynamite!

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