When I traveled to Rome in October and ate at some great restaurants in and around the Testaccio area, every menu had carciofi alla romana listed. I assumed this was a last gasp of summer—artichokes don’t go much into autumn—so I ordered them religiously.
I thought about why I even know about this side dish (or contorni). It’s not a dish I grew up with. The cooking of Italian immigrants to America didn’t include it: we had artichokes French style, where you pull the leaves between your teeth! Kids LOVE this dish! Some Italian-Americans played off of the other popular Roman artichoke dish, deep fried artichokes (carciofi all giudia – artichokes from the Roman Jewish ghetto), but not carciofi alla romana.
The answer to why I knew about this dish, of course, is Marcella Hazan and “The Classic Italian Cook Book” – Page 337 in my edition. While America was assimilating what they thought was a traditional Italy-wide cuisine, but was actually the immigrant cuisine of Southern Italy, Marcella taught us about the varied and seasonal cuisine of all of Italy.
There is no point in repeating her recipe for Carciofi all romana here. The instructions of her recipe are incredibly detailed and helpful to the novice cook – 3 pages on how to peel an artichoke. My only hint is use a serrated grapefruit knife to cut out the prickly center! You can sometimes find artichokes with the stems attached at farmer’s markets, as I did at the Los Angeles Larchmont farmer’s market this past Sunday.
While we have different varieties of artichokes here in American than those found in Italy, you can replicate the feel of an Roman trattoria at home and throw in a little al fresco dining for good measure.