do choke

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They are only thistles, but what beautiful thistles, weighty with purple tips and ribbed stems. I set the artichoke alarm this morning and was at the market before 8, on a Saturday and without the assistance of caffeine or a hairbrush, which meant I wasn’t really awake and my shadow had a fuzzy halo. Even when it’s early and quiet the market rushes at you, a blur of leaves and rounds, gleaming fish scales, marbled meat, cheap shoes, Roma scarves and banter. Shoppers are earnest at that hour, no amateurs, except me. My fruttivendolo took control and  picked me 15 of the nicest globes and offered to buy me a caffè. He also found me a box for my thistles, which I carried back down Via Galvani, artichokes jolting in time with my steps towards breakfast.

Tomorrow my friend Elizabeth and I are going to fry seven trimmed artichokes until they look like bronze flowers and stuff and braise seven more until they are drab green (but taste anything but) and look like wind inverted umbrellas. Well, that is the plan. 7 plus 7 is 14, which means there was one extra for lunch.

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It may seem unusual for a vegetable associated with slow braises, bakes and long steamy boils, but very thin slices of raw globe artichoke tossed with olive oil, lemon juice and paper-thin wisps of parmesan cheese make a superb and surprising salad that seizes every taste bud. The crisp slices of artichoke, bitter with curious sweetness contrast brilliantly with the salty, granular cheese, the lemon softens the rawness but sharpens the edges and the olive oil envelops everything.

It is not an obedient salad, you need a crust of bread and a fork to maneuver and eat, and then another crust to mop up the leftover dressing and chase the tiny flakes of cheese marooned on the side of the plate.

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Artichoke and parmesan salad

Trimming artichokes can make you feel rather like Edward Scissorhands when you start out and your first artichoke will look a little like a two-year old who has cut his own hair (which is no bad thing for this salad.) Persevere, it is more fiddly than anything and worth it. The younger and more tender the artichokes the better.

serves 2

  • 2 lemons
  • 2 large or even better 6 – 8 baby globe artichoke
  •  4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • parmesan cheese

Prepare a bowl of cold water acidulated with the juice of a lemon. Trim the artichokes by first pulling away the darker tougher leaves, pulling them down towards the base of the artichoke and snapping them off just before the base. Then using a sharp knife, pare away the tough green flesh from the base of the artichokes and the stem. Lop about an inch off the top of the central cone, As you work, rub the cut edges of the artichoke with the squeezed half of the lemon. Working quickly, cut the chokes first into quarters (and pull away away hairy choke) then thin slices and put them in the acidulated water.

In another bowl whisk together a tablespoon of lemon juice and the olive oil. Drain and dry the artichoke slices then toss them in the dressing. Pile the dressed artichokes on a plate, pour over any remaining dressing and scatter over some thin slices of parmesan, eat immediately.

Note – As my friend Valeria notes below, it is extremely hard to pair artichokes with wine as they contain a chemical compound called cynarin which has the bizarre effect of of making everything you eat or drink after taste oddly sweet. Which is bad news for wine, and bad news for wine is bad news for me. The parmesan and bread though, redress the balance enough to make a glass enjoyable. Valeria suggests following the what grows to together goes together rule, meaning a wine from the region the artichokes were grown in. I ate my artichokes from lazio with a malvasia from Lazio.

30 Comments

Filed under artichokes, cheese, salads, Uncategorized

30 responses to “do choke

  1. That really looks interesting. I’ve never eaten raw artichoke, and wonder if you can eat the big fat fellows we tend to get in France and England in this way. What do you think?

    • rachel

      Roman artichokes are particularly tender, even the very fat ones……If the chokes are tougher it might not be so delicious…..that said i have made this with a tougher English choke and it was good. The best I think is baby chokes…..Hope you are well? Rx

  2. This arrived just when I needed it to. Thank you. A quiet masterclass in food writing. And I’ve never known quite what to do with globe artichokes until now. Lovely purple greenery too. xxx

  3. Our markets here in California are also selling artichokes . They grow well on our coast. There are many Italian immigrants here and I wouldn’t be surprised if they brought them over from Italy. I found an Italian recipe in a Germann magazine where the cooked artichokes are stuffed with breadcrumbs and baked. I love your recipe.

    • rachel

      With breadcrumbs and baked sounds wonderful. As much as I like this salad, my favorite way is alla romana, braised with mint and garlic until the chokes are so so tender.

  4. I let someone else prepare a “beautiful thistle” for me today. Braised and bathed in olive oil, it sat atop a slice of soft perfectly pink lamb on a crisp toast, a sweet mint ‘salsa’ turned it from typically Italian to quintessentially English. It was most disobedient. You know where I was – though the brilliant Spring sun, and the Italian thistle, made if feel more like Italy than England. Lovely piece. Enjoy cooking and eating yours tomorrow.

    • rachel

      I want that lunch……the way they put things together is just wonderful but makes sense….can’t wait to go again with you in May x

  5. You and Elizabeth sound like a dangerous pair.. wonderful.. oh the market, (small sob) the midwest has no such thing.. love the box! have a gorgeous day.. c

    • rachel

      I was quite dangerous and made a real splattering mess frying (we fried apple too, in batter with pecorino cheese which was delicious…) I hope you are well, I wonder how the weather is now?…..Rx

  6. Eha

    Curious me of course just has to ask what was going to happen to all the wonderful fried and braised artichokes purchased when the cock had barely crowed? And I also love artichokes and so wait for them every spring but have never eaten them raw: a lesson to be tested!!

    • rachel

      All eaten. I love them raw, quite particular but wonderful given just enough olive oil and cheese. the chokes need to be tender though, which Roman globes are……baby artichokes work really well too. Rx

  7. Your fresh artichoke salad looks wonderful,Rachel. I can’t wait to see what your and your friend do with the remaining 14. Enjoy.

  8. Okay, you’ve got me. I’ve never had a raw artichoke salad (and I was curious when the email version didn’t suggest removing the choke – Do Italians eat around them?) but this sounds wonderful. Oh, and the two y.o. haircut (ours was a 4 y.o.), I wish I had a picture. Ken

    • rachel

      You are so observant…….yes Italians do eat the choke, the chokes here are so tender hairy bit so gentle it just gets eaten too…….most of the time, for this if it looks a bit tufty i might pull it out (but probably not). The hair of my child, a mess, as is my kitchen floor.

  9. “Bitter with curious sweetness” I love this description an artichoke. As always, really beautiful writing. I hope we get to read about your further artichoke adventures.

    • rachel

      Hi Aubrey – Thank you and as for the rest (7 alla Romana with mint and garlic and the rest fried) were eaten on Sunday for a chaotic but fantastic recipe testing lunch for my book. I will write about artichokes here though too.

  10. Unsurprisingly, I got introduced to, and started to make and eat raw artichoke salad only this year. As a child, artichokes arrived at the table in halves, boiled until dark green and almost grey, seasoned with salt and oil. The point was to scrub the flesh on the leaf with a serrated bite, and discard the rest. Therefore, I found the whole artichoke eating process quite annoying, and too much work for very little reward. I had to go to Rome to regain my love for artichokes and find out a world of cooking methods to best enjoy them. Then, I had to move here to the UK and miss them so much to actually go after them again. Artichokes don’t come cheap here, and thus require all my care and attention. I found some amazing spiky artichokes which are so so tender that are almost a shame to cook them. Those, I found, are so great to make your delicious salad (which I am addicted to), and there really is no better meal that the one you pictured above, with some white wine (so hard to find a wine for artichokes, they say, but I would always pick something from Lazio just becaus it feels right!), and good bread. It really feels like the ultimate luxury to me.

    • rachel

      Thank you so much for the note about wine, which I have added to the post. Growing up we would get the occasional choke and then my mum would boil them whole and we would dip each leaf in melted butter with our teeth – laborious but delicious. I have to say, the way Romans trim chokes is pretty wonderful and like you this salad is one of my (many) favorite ways. Soon we will eat it together xox

      • Marco is an artichoke fiend. Whenever he sees them, he buys them by the bunch we eat them for nearly every meal until we run out and then the process repeats. It’s partly because in Australia we don’t get the variety of artichokes that you can find in Italy, of course (no where has the variety of artichokes you can find here!) so when here, we eat our fill. But the funny thing about wine that you’re mentioning, is that Marco is also, ahem, a wine fiend, of course. He drinks it with every single meal and then some. Except with artichokes. Rigorously just water. Can’t wait to eat plenty of Roman artichokes soon x

      • rachel

        I am sure Marco is having an artichoke fest theses days. Counting down xox

  11. Artichokes and Parmesan….what a perfect duo…with a bit of wine…of course.

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