Thursday, March 28, 2013

Roman Artichokes

By Patricia Winton

At this time of year, the giant purple Roman artichoke—known as cimiroli—comes into season. Two regional recipes, carciofi alla romana (Roman artichokes) and carciofi alla giudia (Jewish artichokes), vie for the dinner table. Either may join the Easter feast. The former, carciofi alla romana, requires less work. Both are delicious when well cooked.

I have to admit that I’ve never tackled the carciofi alla giudia (a fried artichoke) because it’s quite complicated. I've savored them at restaurants in the Roman ghetto, however, and they are quite wonderful. If you are interested, you can see a video (dubbed in English) that demonstrates the process.

To make both recipes, first you must clean the globes. (The video linked above gives a good demonstration of how to do this.) In Italy, artichokes are normally sold with a portion of the stem, which is edible. To clean, first prepare a bowl of water with the juice of a lemon along with the two lemon halves. Artichokes will darken your hands, so you may want to rub them with the lemon before you begin.

The first step is to snap off the tough outer leaves. Keep going until you begin to see green edges at the base of the remaining artichokes. Next, cut off the points by taking a sharp paring knife and begin making a horizontal cut midway between the base and tip. Turn the artichoke as you go, cutting deeper and deeper into the flesh until you reached the center. Next, use the knife to peel away the tough base of the leaves you removed earlier. Peel any stem remaining. Put the artichoke in the waiting water. Now choose a recipe, either the one below or the one in the video.

Carciofi alla Romana

4 globe artichokes (cleaned and put to soak in lemon water)
2 clove of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped mint
3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
salt and pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Mix together the garlic, mint, parsley, and enough of the olive oil to moisten the mixture. Mix well. (The usual mint used in this dish is mentucciaRoman mintbut you can substitute other mint if the mentuccia is not available.)

Remove the artichokes, shaking and blotting with paper towels to remove water.

Using your thumbs, stretch open each artichoke, making a little well in the center, and pull apart the leaves without breaking or separating them.

Fill each artichoke with some of the mixture, rubbing the exterior with the mixture as well. Place the artichoke in a large pot.

Pour the remaining oil over the artichokes and add enough water to come half-way up. Cover the artichokes with a large piece of crumpled parchment paper.

Cover the pan and bring to a simmer, cooking over a moderate flame for half an hour.

Pierce the artichokes with a fork to check if they are done. Continue cooking until they are tender, if necessary.

Serve the artichokes at room temperature.

Serves 4.

Join me on alternate Thursdays at Novel Adventurers. Next week I blog about my first journey to Italy, a trip fraught with seemingly insurmountable hurdles.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Happy New Year, Pisan Style

By Patricia Winton

If you got off to a slow start this year, if you’ve lagged behind in keeping your resolutions, if 2013 is shaping up to be a bad year, take heart. You can join the Tuscan city of Pisa and celebrate New Year 2014 on March 25.

The stile pisano—Pisan style—dates back to 985 AD. The New Year begins on the day of the annunciation, which is when the Angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would become the mother of Jesus. The date, March 25, is nine month before Christmas, the birth of Christ.

The Pisans, known both for warring with other cities and engaging in trade, took their calendar with them to such cities as Milan, Padua, and Pistoia. In 1749, the Grand Duke of Tuscany decreed that the entire Tuscan region should follow the Gregorian calendar—the one we use today.

This decree did not please the Pisans who continued to count the years in their own style in private. To use the Pisan style, you date January 1 to March 24 like the Gregorian calendar, but from March 25 forward, you must subtract one year.

This practice eventually died out, but in 1999, historical society researchers found archives detailing these old New Year’s celebrations, complete with menus. The Pisans, recognizing a good commercial venture, reinstated the celebration as a kickoff to the tourist season. Last year, 40,000 people from outside Italy traveled to Pisa for the event.

Pisano pulpit
The ceremonies begin this year on Saturday, March 23, with events throughout the city, ranging from reenactments to equestrian demonstrations, continuing Sunday. On Monday a parade of people in medieval dress ends in the Field of Miracles, the area where the cathedral, the baptistery, and the leaning tower sit. Inside the Romanesque cathedral, there is a religious ceremony ending precisely at noon. At that moment, an astronomical event occurs. A ray of light floods a round window in the cathedral dome and strikes a marble egg, symbolizing fertility, next to the Giovanni Pisano pulpit. And that, for the Pisans, marks the beginning of the new year.

So if you need a new start, join the Pisans. Buon Anno 2014.