Carciofi alla giudia, or Jewish-style artichokes, are one of the signature dishes of Roman Jewish cooking.
Even if a lot of Roman cookery—especially the pasta dishes like cacio e pepe, carbonara and amatricana—have become international staples, other iconic Roman dishes, especially the vegetable dishes like this one, remain stuck in relative obscurity. But they’re well worth getting to know.
In Italy carciofi alla giudia are essentially a restaurant dish. But chances are if you want to it enjoy elsewhere, you’ll probably need to make it at home.
You use a type of globe artichoke the Romans call carciofi romaneschi or more colloquially mammole. That’s a lucky thing for us Americans, since globe artichokes are the only kind you’re likely to find here in the US. (And perhaps elsewhere?) Although there are some differences—mammole tend to be smaller, for one thing—our larger globe artichokes work tolerably well with a few adjustments in the traditional recipe.
Carciofi alla giudia are nothing more or less than deep fried artichokes. The recipe is simple, but it takes some skill to accomplish, albeit nothing that a home cook can’t easily master. First, there’s the trimming of the artichoke, a skill that requires some care and practice. Then, like making pommes frites aka French fries, you fry the artichoke in two stages: at low temperature to soften it, then in hot oil to crisp it up. The result is a lovely golden “flower” whose taste is unique and whose texture is an amazing mixture of crisp on the outside and soft within. Just a light sprinkle of salt and you’ll be in culinary heaven.
Carciofi alla giudia are generally considered antipasto, but they’re satisfying enough to serve as a light (vegan) main course. One per person is the usual serving size.
- 1 globe artichoke, as fresh as possible
- Vegetable and/or olive oil
And a lemon for prepping the artichoke.
Prepping the artichoke
Begin by trimming the artichoke. You start at the base of the artichoke, peeling off the toughest, dark green outer leaves. At this point, your artichoke should look something like this:
When you get to these inner leaves, thinner and lighter colored at their base, stop peeling and start trimming off the darker green tops of the remaining leaves lying underneath with a paring knife. Trim the stem of its tough exterior. When you’re done, you should wind up with a specimen that looks something like this:
Immediately rub the artichoke all over with the cut side of a lemon, then submerge it in acidulated water until you’re ready to fry.
Heat abundant the oil in a large pot to about 120-150C/250-300F. The oil should be deep enough that the artichoke can float in it and bubble up very gently around the artichoke as it fries.
Drain the artichoke and pat it perfectly dry. Place on its side in the oil. Let it cook on all sides, turning it from time to time, until almost tender. The artichoke will have slightly browned and its outer leaves begun to open, like so:
Depending on the size and age of your artichoke, this initial fry should take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes. You can test for doneness by inserting a paring knife in the stem and body of the artichoke. If you meet only minimal resistance, it’s done. Remove and drain on paper towels.
When the artichoke has completely cooled, take a fork and separate the leaves outward so as to ‘open’ the artichoke up into something resembling a flower:
Now heat your oil until quite hot (180-200C/350-400F). Holding the artichoke with tongs, dip the artichoke face down into the hot oil. It should immediately bubble up, this time in a very lively fashion, around the edges of the artichoke. Let the artichoke fry for 2-3 minutes or so, until the leaves have opened even more and the face of the artichoke is a lovely golden brown.
Drain the fried artichoke well, face side down, on paper towels or a rack.
Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with salt.
You should try to find as good an artichoke as you can find for making carciofi alla giudia. Fresh artichokes are a spotless green, with their leaves still tightly bound together. (In Italy, they often have a beautiful purple tinge but I’ve never seen those elsewhere.) On older artichokes, the leaves are open and spottled. Unfortunately, as I’ve said before, that describes about 90% of the artichokes you’ll find in the supermarkets here in the US, at least outside California.
That said, this recipe is fairly forgiving. Deep frying is an almost magical process that really makes almost anything taste good. As the Italians say, fritte son bone anche le scarpe—even shoes taste good fried. So even if you can’t find the freshest artichokes, don’t let that stop you from enjoying this dish!
Recommended frying temperatures vary quite a bit, although the basic rule—low temps for the initial fry and the high temps for the second—is a constant in most recipes. If you’re working with larger artichokes, I’d go for the lower part of the range for the initial fry (i.e. 120C/250F). That will provide ample time to cook through without browning too much on the outside.
There are some Italian recipes that call for frying the artichoke in one go at a moderate temperature (around 170-180C/325-350F) for 10 minutes. Feel free to go that route if you are cooking with younger, more tender chokes, but I wouldn’t recommend it for large globe artichokes.
Traditionally, you fry carciofi alla giudia in olive oil. These days vegetable oil is the more usual choice. Olive oil provides incomparable flavor. (It’s a misnomer that olive oil has too low a smoke point for frying, but that’s the subject of its own post.) That said, the price of olive oil being what it is, I usually split the difference and use mostly vegetable oil, adding a good pour of olive oil for flavor.
A video demonstration
And if this all feels a little intimidating, here’s an excellent visual demonstration that shows you just how simple the dish actually is to make:
Making carciofi alla giudia ahead
Since you serve carciofi alla giudia at room temperature, they are an ideal make ahead dish. But not too far ahead or they lose their crispness. What I like to do is make them up through the initial fry, then give them that second high temperature fry shortly before serving.
Eating Artichokes in Rome and The Ghetto
If you are ever in Rome, the place to eat carciofi alla giudia is an area referred to as the “Ghetto”, Rome’s traditionally Jewish quarter. I lived right next to the Ghetto for the first seven years or so of my time in Rome, in small square named piazza San Paolo alla Regola in the building pictured at the left. Our apartment was on this corner on the third floor, the one with the open shutters.
The Ghetto itself has an interesting history. And a long one. Jews have lived in Rome for over 2000 years, since the days of the Empire. Starting in the early 1500s, the city required Roman Jews to live in this walled in area of town, dubbed the Ghetto after a similar district that had been established in Venice. The residents had to be back by sundown, at which time the gates were shut. Thankfully all that came to an end in the mid-19th century, and the wall was torn down. (Of course, the Ghetto saw much worse during WWII.)
Today the Ghetto is actually a rather tony area, located as it is right in the center of town. An enormous synagogue built around the turn of the 20th century today serves as the center of the Roman Jewish community.
Across the street are some of the most interesting and accessible ruins in Rome, the remains of the Portico d’Ottavia and the adjoining Teatro di Marcello. And right next to the ruins is Rome’s Holocaust Museum.
Al Pompiere, a taste of old Rome
In recent years, like much of Rome, the Ghetto has been overrun with tourists. This apparently has had a negative impact on the local restaurants. Sadly for me personally, food experts like Katie Parla are now warning people off the most famous of the old style restaurants, Giggetto, where way back in the 1970s I had my very first carciofo alla giudia. And from what I hear the other restaurants that line the main street aren’t much better.
No need to despair, however. During my recent trip we went to Al Pompiere and ate very well indeed. I had a fine carciofi alla giudia. It reminded me just how delicious this simple dish can be—and inspired me to update this post, originally published in 2010. And on the whole the experience was, in fact, almost like stepping into a time machine. Only a few blocks from our house, we used to go to Al Pompiere fairly often.
On this latest trip, the old school atmosphere, food and service was just as I had remembered it. It’s a little hidden away, on the second floor of the Palazzo Cenci, a 16th century building with a colorful history. Being on the piano nobile, the ceilings of the restaurant are soaring and some feature old frescos. It’s well off the Ghetto’s ‘main drag’, which may be why Al Pompiere remains unspoiled.
Carciofi alla giudia
- 1 globe artichoke
- Vegetable and/or olive oil
- 1 Lemon for prepping the artichoke
- Begin by trimming the artichoke. You peel the stem, then starting at the base of the artichoke, peel off the toughest, dark green outer leaves.
- Trim off the darker green tops of the remaining leaves lying underneath with a paring knife. Trim the steam of its tough exterior.
- Immediately rub the artichoke all over with the cut side of a lemon, then submerge it in acidulated water until you're ready to fry.
- Heat abundant the oil in a large pot to about 120-150C/250-300F. The oil should be deep enough that the artichoke can float in it and bubble up very gently around the artichoke as it fries.
- Drain the artichoke and pat it perfectly dry. Place on its side in the oil. Let it cook on all sides, turning it from time to time, until almost tender. The artichoke will have slightly browned and its outer leaves begun to open.
- Depending on the size and age of your artichoke, this initial fry should take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes. You can test for doneness by inserting a paring knife in the stem and body of the artichoke. If you meet only minimal resistance, it's done. Remove and drain on paper towels.
- When the artichoke has completely cooled, take a fork and separate the leaves outward so as to 'open' the artichoke up into something resembling a flower.
- Now heat your oil until quite hot (180-200C/350-400F). Holding the artichoke with tongs, dip the artichoke face down into the hot oil. It should immediately bubble up, this time in a very lively fashion, around the edges of the artichoke. Let the artichoke fry for 2-3 minutes or so, until the leaves have opened even more and the face of the artichoke is a lovely golden brown.
- Drain the fried artichoke well, face side down, on paper towels or a rack.
- Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with salt.
Frank, your fried artichoke dish would be beautiful served up as an appetizer ( I am thinking several on a platter). Good fresh artichokes not easy to come by here. I would really enjoy trying this method. Thanks for sharing.
I wish I could get fresh artichokes here Frank. This looks absolutely amazing!
Never have tried this recipe and am so thankful for the video! Beautiful!
I want to give this a shot but the only artichokes I can find here are in bottles, never seen a fresh one yet. Anyways that Carciofi alla giudia honestly looks delicious
Gee, that’s too bad. But thanks for the comment!
I just stumbled across some fresh artichokes at the store this week, and I *almost* bought them. Now I have to go back! I’m not familiar with this dish, but it sounds absolutely fantastic. On a side note, I spent a summer living not too far away from the Ghetto. We were across the Tiber near the Villa Sciarra, but we explored all of those areas. Reading this post makes me want to go back to those days!!
Definitely you should go back! If I ever see some truly fresh artichokes I grab them, notwithstanding the crazy cost. And that’s a lovely area up around Villa Sciarra. Worth a return visit some day!
I love deep-fried artichokes! Haven’t had them for years tho. There used to be an Italian restaurant near us who always had them on the menu. Sigh … I miss that place!
You’re lucky to have had that place close by. First I’ve heard of a restaurant that made this dish or at least something similar.
I love them in any way, but roasted, repieni stuffed with breadcrumbs, cheese, garlic and parsley or stir fry are my favorite.
Also nice of course.
Looks delicious. Have you ever experimented with doing these in an air frier?
Funny, I was just thinking about that given some of the comments from people who are hesitant about deep frying. But I haven’t experimented with it yet. I imagine it would work well as a substitute for the second fry, but you’d need to find a way to soften the artichokes first. Perhaps steaming/boiling… I may experiment with this!
I have had these once when a group of us got together to cook. So delicious, but like you said, finding proper and fresh artichokes is the hardest part (sadly)!
Indeed it is… 🙁
I so wish I could get my hands on small artichokes for so many different recipes, this one included!
It’s frustrating, I know. We used to get baby artichokes at one of our local supermarkets. They were too small for this treatment but we really used in all kinds of other recipes. Anyway, large artichokes will work here so long as you really lean into the trimming.
As I mentioned previously, our Roman food experience was hit and miss, sadly. We had this dish and it was definitely a miss! But now you’ve inspired me to try to make it at home! The look on Max Mariola’s face when he tries the first bite is reason enough! I believe globe artichokes are what we have here. I haven’t been able to find frozen artichokes as you mentioned in a previous post. Perhaps I’ll get lucky and find them in Arizona when we visit in November.
Sorry to hear that since I well made carciofo alla giudia is truly wonderful taste experience. Do give it a try!
IfI have to be honest – may I just copy David’s comment – feel SO similarly! Glorious simplicity . . .and I love of both Jewish and Italian food . . ., have o leave he Coronation quiche and see . . . huge smile . . .
Thanks, Eha! As for that coronation quiche, I’m curious to give it a go, too. But the thought of beans in a quiche …
I love artichokes in so many different ways, but my favorites are arrostite or roasted. get artichokes and loosing up all the leaves and wash them, then just springily salt and olive oil, by now should have wood fired up but not flames. just sit the artichoke upwards and let cook when the leaves can be pulled easily they are done discard the outer leaves out and the rest are ready to eat. just put the tender part of the leaves in the mouth and pull them by pulling the leaves out dragging them between your teeth. enjoy them. I can do stir fry, parmigiana omelets and etc,etc.
I have been fortunate to live in Rome, where it is possible to find olive oil in the supermarket as low as €6 a liter!
One tip, if I may:
Splash a little white wine on them just before the second frying. The water and alcohol react with the hot oil to make them really blossom out and help them crisp up. Careful though, the initial reaction may splatter.
You lucky dog! Yes, good and low priced oil and wine are some of the things I miss most about Rome! And yes,I’ve heard about that little tip you mention but I hesitated to recommend it to readers (or even try it) given the risk you mention.
That looks delicious – artichokes are very popular in Spain and fried artichoke petals or deep fried baby artichokes (though I believe they are actually second growth artichokes) are very common. I have a friend (currently in Norway) who adores them, so I sent her your recipe before I’d read it myself! It got a very big thumbs up!
That’s great to hear, MD! Hope your friend enjoys the recipe…
I had my first in Rome last time we went – just amazing, especially for how simple it is. I am not sure I want to deep fry them at home but you never know. I might just have ot go back to Rome a lot to get my fell. (Now that I think of it, we have a friend with a deep fryer… Hmmmm.)
I’d borrow that deep fryer, David!
I remember the recipe from Marcella’s “Classic Italian Cookbook”. First the chokes were soaked in lemon juice, drained, stuffed with breadcrumbs and pecorino and herbs; then they were browned in oil, and finally placed upside down in a large pot, with some water to prevent burning. Wet paper towels were placed over the top of the pot, and the artichokes were steamed to perfection. Absolute heaven!
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.
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.
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.
Dear Claudia, I am sure you’ll love them!
hi! in 2010 my restaurant “nonna betta” was already open but you did miss it. anthony bourdain did not… 🙂 see you soon in rome.
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!
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!!!
Carciofi alla Giudia is so good. One of my favorite places in the Ghetto is Sora Margherita.
Oh my gosh! How awesome is this?! The husband may be willing to eat this kind of artichoke! Thanks oh so much:)
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
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!
This sounds like a great way to prepare artichokes. I'd love to try it!
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!
Okay … I HAVE to have this. Seriously.