Rome has produced two world famous artichoke dishes, carciofi alla romana (Roman-Style Braised Artichokes) and carciofi alla giudia (Jewish-Style Deep-Fried Artichokes) Both are fantastic but require rather elaborate preparations and deserve ‘star’ treatment as an antipasto or even a light vegetarian second course. Lesser known but every bit as delicious, carciofi fritti alla romana—Roman-Style Fried Artichokes—can serve as a side dish, especially nice with lamb chops, or as part of a fritto misto. Baby artichokes are trimmed and cut into wedges, marinated with lemon juice and oil, then enrobed in a simple batter and fried in fruity extra virgin olive oil until crisp and golden brown on the outside, meltingly soft and mellow on the inside. Need I say more?
- 10 baby artichokes, trimmed and cut into wedges
- 1 lemon to rub the artichokes and acidulate the water
For the marinade:
- Juice of one lemon
- 2-3 Tbs. olive oil
- A large pinch of salt
For the batter:
- 110g (4 oz) flour
- 2-3 Tbs. olive oil
- 150 ml (2/3 cup) lukewarm water, or more
Make the batter first by mixing the flour, salt and olive oil in a bowl. Add enough water to make a very liquid batter, about the consistency of heavy cream. Let the batter sit for an hour or more.
Trim the artichokes by removing the hardest leaves. Then, with a paring knife or vegetable peeler, peel the skin off their stems and undersides, then cut off the tips. Rub the artichokes all over with the cut side of a lemon, then cut into wedges and throw the wedges in a bowl filled with acidulated water. Continue until you’ve trimmed all the artichokes.
Prepare the marinade by mixing the lemon juice, olive oil and salt in a bowl. Drain the artichoke wedges well, pat dray and add them to the marinade, mixing everything well so that the artichoke wedges are well coated. Let them marinate for at least half an hour.
When you ready to fry, pour lots of olive oil in a skillet, enough to come up at least 3 cm (1 in) up the sides. Heat the oil until quite hot.
Transfer the marinated artichoke wedges to the batter and mix well to coat. Now add the wedges, one by one, to the hot oil. The oil should bubble up around each wedge as it goes into the skillet. As for any frying, make sure your wedges are well spaced; work in batches if you need to.
Regulate the heat so that the artichokes fry at a moderate pace, neither too quickly or too slowly. Turn the artichoke wedges so they brown evenly on both sides. Test one to see if it’s done; it should be crisp and golden brown on the outside, but completely tender on the inside. Drain the artichoke wedges on paper towels.
When all your artichoke wedges are done, turn them onto a serving platter, salt lightly and serve immediately, with lemon wedges on the side.
The best artichokes for this dish are a medium sized, purple-tinged, rather slender and pointed variety that I’ve never seen Stateside. In these parts, the best choice are baby artichokes, which are often sold in packs like the one pictured below. They are smaller than the ones I would use back in Italy but will do fine.
If you can’t find baby artichokes, you can use the more common (and expensive!) globe artichoke. They require more trimming, including the fibrous ‘choke’ at their core, which baby artichokes don’t have. For detailed instructions, see this post. And since globe artichokes are a bit tougher than baby ones, it’s a good idea to parboil the wedges for, say, 5 minutes, before marinating. Proceed from there per the above recipe.
Critical to the success of the dish is the consistency of the batter and, to be exact, the amount of water. To my mind, the worst sin is making the batter too thick, which will result in a really heavy, thick and often greasy crust, so I like to keep my batter rather thin, about the consistency of heavy cream as mentioned in the recipe. But if you go too thin, on the other hand, the batter won’t cling to the vegetable. For a richer batter, you can add an egg yolk to the initial mixture and then, just before you use the batter, stir in the white, which you will have whipped until stiff.
The marinade is taken from Ada Boni’s classic cookbook Il Talismano della felicità. It isn’t an absolute must, and if you’re hurried you can skip that step, but I do find it adds a little something extra to the end result.
As I mentioned, these fried artichokes are a typical part of the Roman-style fritto misto or mixed fry, which typically includes calves brains, sweet breads and liver as well, all dipped in batter and shallow fried. It’s another example of the Romans’ love of the quinto quarto—which literally means the ‘fifth quarter’, all those supposedly less desirable cuts and organs that the nobility disdained but the common folk turned into delicious delicacies.