By now just about everybody on the planet knows and loves carbonara, the most famous of Roman pasta dishes. Perhaps less well known, however, are its variations. As delicious as the original dish is, I do like to mix things up a bit every once in a while. And in the spring, I particularly enjoy carbonara di carciofi or Artichoke Carbonara. It makes excellent use of what might be my favorite spring vegetable. Artichokes and eggs have a natural affinity, and this dish is a perfect example.
There are two main versions of carbonara di carciofi, one entirely meatless and one with a bit of pancetta. Both have their charms, but the meatless version is my preferred one, as it makes for more of a change from the classic recipe. To start, the artichokes are sautéed briefly in a simple shallot soffritto, then splashed with white wine and braised until tender. Pasta, typically spaghetti or less often rigatoni, is cooked al dente then briefly simmered with the artichokes and finally, off heat, tossed with the usual mixture of eggs and grated cheese. And lots of pepper, of course.
I can’t think of a tastier way to welcome the spring.
The main recipe in this post uses frozen artichoke hearts, a compromise that I’m sure many Italians would consider anathema. But as I’ve mentioned before, given the abysmal quality of the artichokes I can usually find where I live, it’s often the lesser of two evils. I suspect a lot of our readers are in the same boat. If you are lucky enough to live in a place where you can find truly fresh artichokes, then check out the instructions in the Notes below.
- 500g (1 lb) spaghetti or rigatoni
- 500g (1 lb) frozen artichoke hearts, cut into thin wedges (see Notes if using fresh)
- 1-2 shallots, finely chopped
- Olive oil
- white wine
- 6 egg yolks
- 250 g (1/2 lb) freshly grated pecorino-romano, or a 50:50 mix of pecorino and parmigiano-reggiano
- Salt and pepper
- 100g (3-1/2 oz) pancetta, cut into cubes (optional)
- A few sprigs of fresh parsley, minced
If using the pancetta, brown it lightly in olive oil in a large skillet or sauté pan and remove.
If not using pancetta, start with the shallots and let them gently sauté in olive oil for a minute or two until soft. Add the artichoke wedges, season with salt and pepper, then give them a turn. Drizzle on some white wine and let it evaporate. Add some water and let the artichokes braise until tender, usually just 5 minutes or so.
Meanwhile, put a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta until al dente.
Also whisk the eggs and grated cheese together in a small bowl. Season generously with freshly grated pepper.
When the pasta is done, transfer it to the skillet, along with a ladleful of the pasta cooking water and, if using, the reserved pancetta. Toss well and let the pasta simmer for a few moments to let the flavors meld. Turn off the heat, making sure a bit of liquid is left in the skillet.
Immediately add the egg and cheese mixture and stir very vigorously just until it has thickened enough to coat the pasta.
Serve right away.
Like the classic version, the tricky part of making a carbonara di carciofi is the final tossing of the pasta with the egg yolks and cheese. You want to mixture to thicken up enough to coat the pasta but without scrambling the eggs. For this you need to be mindful of the temperature as well as how much liquid is left in the pan.
If you check out my post on classic carbonara, you’ll see some useful tips. There, I suggest keeping the pasta over the barest flame to get the temperature just right. But here, since the pasta will be plenty hot after its brief simmer with the artichokes, you’d do best to take the pasta off heat.
And make sure there’s a bit of liquid still left in the pan as well. The liquid helps loosen the egg and cheese mixture so it coats the pasta more easily and produces a creamy sauce. You could also whisk some of the pasta water directly into the mixture just before you add it to the pasta. This is a popular and effective ‘trick’ when making classic carbonara. But here, since you’re braising the artichokes in liquid, I find leaving liquid in the pan easier. In either case, don’t overdo it, or your pasta may turn out runny.
It’s also critical to serve the dish right away. The sauce loses its creaminess quite quickly and doesn’t reheat well.
Like classic carbonara, carbonara di carciofi is usually made with spaghetti or, rather less often, rigatoni. But you can feel free to use other pasta shapes and types as you like. I actually think this rather more delicate version of carbonara lends itself nicely to fresh egg pasta like fettuccine.
Choosing and prepping your artichokes
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve largely stopped buying fresh artichokes these days. Where I live, the artichokes you’ll usually find in stores are mostly well past their prime and so big they’ve lost their tenderness. And they’re ridiculously expensive. Occasionally, I find baby artichokes that can be rather nice. But, unless I’m very lucky, I turn to frozen artichokes. No, they’re not as tasty as good quality fresh, but still a better option than poor quality fresh. Canned or jarred artichokes, on other hand, are not a good substitute for fresh, as they are invariably packed in brine, with alters their flavor radically.
Speaking of which, bear in mind that you should cut the artichokes into thin wedges. You can be a bit more lax in the case of rigatoni and other tubular pastas, but with long pastas like spaghetti, slice them into very thin wedges, almost slivers.
If you do have access to good fresh artichokes, a few points to bear in mind:
Perhaps most typical for making carbonara di carciofi are the spiny purple variety of artichokes much loved by Italians but, as far as I know, impossible to find elsewhere. Certainly not where I live. That said, the more common globe artichoke will also work.
The usual rule of thumb for making carbonara di carciofi is one artichoke for every 100g of pasta. But this rule assumes you’re using the smallish artichokes you’ll find in Italy, which you then trim. If you’re using a globe artichoke, then one artichoke will do for 200g or even 300g of pasta, depending on its size.
Whatever size you’re using, fresh artichokes need trimming of the tough outer leaves and fibrous chokes. See this post for detailed step by step instructions with photos. You will probably need to braise them a bit longer, perhaps 10 minutes rather than the 5 mentioned in the main recipe.
While there are all sorts of taboos around classic carbonara, since this dish is a bit heretical to begin with—in its use of garlic and herbs, not to mention the artichokes—you can feel free to play around with the recipe.
Let’s start with the cheese. As for traditional carbonara, pecorino is the usual cheese of choice. And while I’m a big fan of pecorino in traditional carbonara, here the sharpness of the pecorino tends to overwhelm the rather delicate flavor of the artichokes. A 50/50 mix of pecorino and parmigiano-reggiano may be a better option.
As with traditional carbonara, there are those who use whole eggs (typically one egg per 100g of pasta or a little less), while others use only yolks or a combination of both. Yolks provide for a richer carbonara, of course, and seems to be de rigueur these days. For today’s recipe, I’ve gone with yolks only but feel free to improvise. Again, you can find more details in my post on traditional carbonara.
For a lustier flavor profile, use garlic rather than shallots, as many recipes do. The parsley is optional and heretical for classic carbonara, but it works well here; some recipes call for other herbs such as thyme. You can use the usual guanciale instead of pancetta. And I’ve even seen recipes where you use pancetta affumicata, or smoked pancetta, similar in flavor to bacon.
In one particular lovely variation on vegetarian version of carbonara di carciofi, you take some of the artichokes, sliced very thin indeedd, and deep fry them until crisp. You then use these to top your pasta. It strikes me as a nice way to get some crunch into your dish without the pancetta. And it lends tremendous eye appeal. You can check out this video on YouTube illustrating the technique.
Carbonara di carciofi
- 500g 1 lb spaghetti or rigatoni
- 500g 1 lb frozen artichoke hearts defrosted and cut into thin wedges
- 1-2 shallots finely chopped
- olive oil
- white wine
- 6 egg yolks
- 250g 1/2 lb 250 g (1/2 lb) freshly grated pecorino-romano or a 50:50 mix of pecorino and parmigiano-reggiano
- salt and pepper
- 100g 3-1/2 oz pancetta cut into cubes
- A few sprigs of fresh parsley minced
- If using the pancetta, brown it lightly in olive oil in a large skillet or sauté pan and remove.
- If not using pancetta, start with the shallots and let them gently sauté in olive oil for a minute or two until soft. Add the artichoke wedges, season with salt and pepper, then give them a turn. Drizzle on some white wine and let it evaporate. Add some water and let the artichokes braise until tender, usually just 5 minutes or so.
- Meanwhile, put a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta until al dente.
- Also whisk the eggs and grated cheese together in a small bowl. Season generously with freshly grated pepper.
- When the pasta is done, transfer it to the skillet, along with a ladleful of the pasta cooking water and, if using, the reserved pancetta. Toss well and let the pasta simmer for a few moments to let the flavors meld. Turn off the heat.
- Immediately add the egg and cheese mixture and stir very vigorously just until it has thickened enough to coat the pasta.
- Serve right away.
I have not been to Roma in artichoke season, but hope to try carbonara con carciofi there at some time! Ciao, Cristina
I was just there and had artichokes at just about every meal! Revisiting old favorites and had one new one that I adored: gricia with artichokes. If anything I liked it even better than the carbonara version!
Plenty of cheap and excellent chokes now, here in Lucca – one to try. The heretical/non customers versions of carbonara, now often well integrated in contemporary Italian food culture though, can be excellent. I sometimes make this omitting the pasta, as in creamy scrambled eggs with carciofi, called imbrugliata. I also love asparagus carbonara, with asparagus coming to season. Enjoy Rome btw
Lucky dog! One of the first things I plant to do when I get to Rome is check out the artichokes in the market. 😉 And yes, I agree, asparagus carbonara is also delightful. In fact, I debated between which to present this week.
I love carbonara and the idea of adding artichokes to it sounds delicious. I appreciate the option of making it meatless, which is great for option for me who observes the Lenten season
It’s indeed an excellent choice for Lent, Raymund.
Well this sounds absolutely fantastic! I love carbonara in pretty much every form, although we do try to limit how often we make it. It’s not exactly on the list of diet food – hah! This is a fun way to use spring artichokes, and I suspect we can find some of those at one of the farmer’s markets here in Asheville. I can’t wait to try this recipe, Frank – thanks for sharing!
Thanks, David! Carbonara definitely is one of those dishes you can’t eat daily… But it’s so good when you do! If you’re lucky enough to have access to fresh young artichokes this one will be extra special. Enjoy!
I never would have thought of mixing up carbonara with artichokes, and this sounds like a great idea! I’ve been lately into pasta recipes from your blog lately (tried three so far), and well, I bet another one will be coming up shortly! 🙂
It’s a match made in heaven, Ben! And I’m so happy to hear you’re enjoying the pasta recipes here. I really liked your take on pasta con cavolfiore!
Beautiful recipe, Frank! I cannot wait to try it (using frozen, of course, as well). Mark grew artichokes a couple of years — but for them to blossom! (Which is beautiful.)
Aside from the quality here being pretty mediocre, I don’t think we get the same variety of artichoke here in the states. What I found in Italy was not the same plant that I have gotten here or in California. Oh, and I know what you mean about the trimming in the market — I got artichoke bottoms in Venice and it was truly an art to watch them process the vegetable!
I’m sure you’re right, David. The artichokes here are also much more fibrous for some reason. I’ve always chalked it up to the fact they’re allowed to get so big, but it may well just come down their being a different variety. Btw, I’m going to Rome next week and you know one of my first stops is going to be a market. And what a joy it will be!
Just returned from Rome where we found another twist to this in the Ghetto area. Basically, the guanciale found in Gricia, is substituted for the crispy outer leaves of the Jewish style carciofi. Anther way of putting this I guess is Cacio e Pepe with carciofi. Delighful!!
Sounds delightful, Mark! I’m going to look out for that dish when I’m in Rome next week.
Casalino Osteria Kosher, Via Del Portico D’Ottavia. Worth a visit. Have a wonderful time!!
Frank, I just ate the carbonara with Tinef artichokes from 365 / WF. It was very good. Actually quite delicious. It’s not my favorite Frank recipe by far. That has to be either the duck or the one with the beef where you put the carrot and the bacon through the beef. But it was very good indeed, and I am even tempted to try buying some fresh artichokes from trader Joe, and just seeing what it’s like. I have never cooked an artichoke I have to admit. I have eaten them in restaurants, but never cooked one myself. I am tempted now to buy a couple and do the artichoke carbonara with the fried artichoke on top. I have eight people coming to dinner next Sunday so maybe I will do that.
I searched everywhere for frozen artichoke hearts and finally found them online at Whole Foods. I ordered them but when the delivery arrived, they had substituted tinned ones. 365 brand. Would it really be inedible with tinned? Thats all I got and Im at home sick.
I actually checked the ingredients in tinned 365 brand artichokes online. They do contain some citric acid—I assume as a preservative—but don’t appear to be brined. They might just work… I would soak them in water for a few minutes to leech out the acidity and give it a go. Would be interested to hear your impressions.
not easy to get artichokes here at all! I’ve never seen frozen ones. Such an interesting recipe here Frank.
Sorry to hear it, Sherry. Artichokes are such a delicious vegetable. But so hard to find in many places…
carciofi are the one ingredient I buy in tins here, all the way from Italy, which goes against my propensity to only buy local. We will be in Napoli soon and carciofi should be available in the markets. I cannot wait.
I know… I’m heading to Italy soon myself. Rome and Puglia. Can’t wait!
We grow artichokes here on our coast and I love them. It’s a lot of work to peel the artichokes, so I might just use frozen hearts if I decide to make this dish,
You’re in California, then? That might actually be the one place in the US with really good, fresh artichokes, so I’d definitely take advantage! Yes, it’s a fair amount of work to trim an artichoke, but well worth it. And once you get the hang of it, not that much effort. You should have seen how quickly they trimmed them for me at our local market in Rome…
That said, frozen is always an option.
Would so love to try your recipe as do not remember ever having pasta with artichokes! The latter I still have to work out here in Australia! Fresh are hugely expensive and available for but a brief period oin spring . . . definitely for eating whole! Frozen seem rarely available and then pre-grilled . . . the hearts do come tinned by a number of manufacturers . . . ?
It’s a fantastic combination, Eha! The issue with tinned artichokes is that they are usually brined first, which gives them a distinct sour/acidic taste. But if you can find a tinned or jarred artichokes that are left plain, that might actually work…
I can’t eat eggs but I love artichokes and this looks marvelous. What if I left out the eggs? I know it wouldn’t be the same but would it be good?
Sure. Artichokes are wonderful on pasta! Of course, it would no longer be a carbonara but simply pasta con carciofi. But it will be delicious. You might also try this recipe from the blog, where the artichokes are paired with mushrooms.
Love this twist! Now, if only my artichoke plants will comply and produce some fruit this month!
You grow your own artichokes? Color me impressed!
That looks delicious – I can get decent artichokes and have seen good ones this week. I will probaby make your Carbonara di carciofi with a little jamón serrano.
Lucky you, MD! I like the idea of this dish made with jamón serrano. Sounds delicious!
Oh my goodness this looks so good. I wish I could get baby artichokes like you can in Italy. Or probably in big cities. I would so love to cook with them.
Thanks so much, Mimi! If you have a Whole Foods nearby, you should be able to get frozen…
We had our fair share of carbonara during our five days in Roma in February/March. Some better than others. At home, I use the Bain-Marie method as I’ve scrambled my sauce way too often 🤣! Artichokes were in season when we were there, but I didn’t see this delightful variation on any menus, I would have definitely ordered it. I recently read that carbonara is never served hot, more like room temperature and I wondered if it was true. The ones we had in Roma weren’t piping hot.
It’s so easy to scramble the eggs if you’re not careful! And it relates to your question. While it’s true that carbonara isn’t served piping hot, it’s not because there’s a particular rule about it, but simply because serving it piping hot would also mean scrambled, not creamy, eggs.
I figured as much. Still trying to source frozen artichokes!
Love rich carbonara sauce! This looks really wonderful with artichokes.
Thanks so much, Angie!