Ciao'd while the Acacia pollen flurries in the breeze.
Italians are great fans of the artichoke. During the spring, all manner of artichokes, from petite to jumbo, grasshopper green to deep violet, are piled high in farmers' markets. Nowhere is this display more dramatic than in Rome's Campo dei Fiori market. No surprise then that Carciofi alla Romana (Roman-style artichokes) has become an iconic Roman dish. During the spring, most households and restaurants prepare it. Over and over again.
The artichokes are prepared with mentuccia, a delicate wild mint native to Italy. The mint is combined with parsley and garlic and then stuffed into the artichoke's cavity. The artichokes are then braised in a blend of olive oil, white wine, and water. It's a dish that celebrates how fresh, seasonal ingredients prepared simply can manifest absolute perfection. That's it, and that's enough.
My recipe is a riff on the Roman dish. I braise the artichokes alla Romana-style, but instead of stuffing them with herbs and garlic, I mix those ingredients with toasted breadcrumbs, chopped soppressata (a Pugliese dry-cured salami) and Pecorino-Romano cheese. I sprinkle the mixture on the artichokes before serving. Simplice è deliziosa (simple is delicious).
BRAISED ARTICHOKES WITH ROMANO TOPPING
A blend of white wine, parsley, mint, and garlic infuses the artichokes with a flavor that complements their grassy greenness. Before serving, the artichokes are topped with toasted breadcrumbs enriched with Pecorino-Romano cheese and soppressata, a Pugliese dry-cured salami.
4 globe artichokes
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup fresh parsley leaves plus 1/4 cup chopped
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
2 cups dry white wine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Generous 1 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
1/4 cup soppressata or other cured salami
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fill a large bowl with cold water. Halve the lemon, squeeze the juice into the water, and add the lemon halves. Trim the stem of an artichoke to about 1 1/2 inches from the base. Using a vegetable peeler or paring knife, remove the stem's fibrous exterior. Remove the tough outer leavers, snapping them off at the base, until only the yellow leaves with pale green tips remain. Trim 1/4-inch off the top of the artichoke. With a a small spoon (a melon baller works great), scrape and remove the hairy choke in the center of the artichoke. Place the artichoke in the acidulated lemon water. Repeat with the remaining three artichokes.
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a saucepan large enough to hold the artichokes snugly. Add the garlic, parsley, and mint and cook, stirring, until the garlic becomes fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the wine and 2 teaspoons salt. Remove the artichokes from the water, tap on the counter to spread the leaves open, and place cut side down in the pan. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently until the artichokes are tender. The artichokes should offer no resistance when pierced with a knife and the outer leaves should come off easily when pulled. Season the braising liquid with salt and pepper, to taste.
Meanwhile, in a small skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring, until they become lightly browned. Stir in the cheese, soppressata, and remaining parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide the artichokes among 4 shallow bowls. Top with the breadcrumb mixture and spoon the braising liquid around the artichokes.