These gorgeous, golden, fried flowers are emblematic of Roman, if not all, Italian Jewish cuisine. Its sunflower looks, crispy leaves, tender heart and savoury-sweet taste make it unique. As the artichokes are eaten whole, it is important to choose a variety which has little hair inside, such as the tender Cimarolo – the best of the bunch of the Romanesco or Mammole varieties, available mostly in the area around Rome in winter and early spring.
These are a labour of love, but so worth the effort. For all the effort that goes into them, it’s worth cooking a big batch. They also freeze very well.
Find step-by-step instructions on how to clean and prepare artichokes in my book ‘Jewish Flavours of Italy’ (Green Bean Books) p. 190-191
Photo: Barbara Toselli
PREP - 20 minutes
COOK - 20-30 minutes
SERVES - 4
4 fresh artichokes, ideally Cimarolo, Romanesco or Mammole
2 lemons, quartered
Olive oil or sunflower oil, for deep-frying
Sea salt and black pepper
Clean and trim the artichokes (full instructions in Silvia’s book pages 190-191). Squeeze lemon juice into a bowl of water and place the prepped artichokes in there.
When they are all prepared, drain, shaking off as much liquid as possible, and pat dry. Gently tap each flower, stem up, to loosely open the centre where the petals meet. Smear a little salt and pepper wherever you can reach inside, and around the outside.
Heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer to 150°C or fill a large, deep, heavy-based saucepan or casserole with oil to a depth of 4–5cm and warm over a medium heat until hot. (If you don’t have a thermometer, test the oil is hot enough by dropping in a cube of bread: it should float not sink and sizzle immediately.)
Deep-fry the artichokes for 15–20 minutes, stem down. They should fit comfortably (but if not, cook in batches) sitting on the bottom of the fryer or pan, ¾ covered with oil, and not float around. Gently rotate every 2–3 minutes, always stem downwards, until the heart is tender. If a fork inserted into the heart comes out easily when you test them, they’re done. If you’re cooking them on the hob and they brown too fast, reduce the heat.
Place the cooked — but still partially closed — artichokes in a sieve to drain the oil and leave to cool slightly. You can set them aside to finish off later — if you are serving them within a few hours, keep them at room temperature; if not, cover and refrigerate. You can also freeze them at this stage.
Ten minutes before serving, gently open the leaves of the artichokes where the petals meet, using your hands or two forks. Reheat the oil, this time to about 170C. Place the opened artichokes in the hot oil, stem down. Fry for 1–2 minutes, then carefully turn them so the stems stick up out of the pan – they will sizzle. Fry for another minute or so, until the leaves turn golden and crispy. A few leaves may become separated, but don’t worry — they make delicious artichoke “chips”.
Remove with a slotted spoon and place in a sieve to drain the oil. After a minute, transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper to absorb any excess oil. Serve immediately. Enjoy!!