Carciofi alla Romana (Roman Artichokes with Fresh Mint & Garlic Pesto)


Photo credit: Nancy Anne Harbord

I developed a fulsome and, frankly, obsessive love of artichokes during my time in Rome. I cannot get enough of this remarkable vegetable. Although I have been eating them for years, I never really got them. I had always eaten them the French way, steamed until tender, then dipped/slathered in shiny, super-garlicky aïoli.


Photo credit: Nancy Anne Harbord

Nice enough, but not a patch on the multiple preparations I experienced this winter in Italy – deep-fried, braised, roasted, sautéed. Marinated in fresh mint pesto or glistening with lush green olive oil. I’ll take them ANY which way.


Photo credit: Nancy Anne Harbord

So I bring you the recipe for one of the most amazing things I tasted during my time there – carcofi alla Romana. Fresh, firm artichokes, stripped back to their tender core, stuffed with fresh mint and garlic pesto, then steam-braised in lashings of iridescent green olive oil. The flavour is herbal and delicately metallic, the texture meltingly soft and silky. Incomparable.


Photo credit: Nancy Anne Harbord

The dish begins with a quick, fresh, mint pesto. I used to think that pesto was a somewhat complicated affair that required buying special ingredients and following a recipe. Then I realised it actually took all of five minutes, and that dish after dish could be transformed with a big handful of herbs, a glug of olive oil and a couple of cloves of garlic.


Photo credit: Nancy Anne Harbord

It’s not really even cheaper to buy it in a jar, especially if you can find a shop that sells herbs by the bunch, rather than the sprig. And what a flavour difference! The jarred alternative isn’t really recognisable as the same food in comparison.


Photo credit: Nancy Anne Harbord

Although it wasn’t added to the traditional Roman preparations I tasted, I always include a little lemon juice in any pesto I make. It serves several valuable functions. Firstly, it keeps the pesto bright, glorious, green. The acid in the lemon counteracts the darkening effects of oxygen on the cut herbs and stops them turning the colour of sludge (read more about this here). Secondly, it adds an always-welcome boost of antioxidant rich nutrition (read more about the fabulous health benefits of lemon here). And last but not least, the extra vitamin C helps your body better absorb the various vitamins and minerals found in artichokes. Triple yum!


Photo credit: Nancy Anne Harbord

Steaming vegetables in their own juices and water is one of my favourite cooking methods. Nothing is leeched away, all the flavour is retained. And there are less cooking steps and less pots required by the recipe. Just be careful to avoid that scalding steam when opening them up!


Photo credit: Nancy Anne Harbord

These artichokes can be served in a multitude of ways. As a light, elegant first course. With something like polenta or rice for a more substantial dish. Or as an impressive side dish. What ever you do decide to serve them with, try to avoid overpowering the artichoke flavour with many other contrasting ingredients. It is so unique and delicious by itself – let it shine!


Photo credit: Nancy Anne Harbord

Does anyone know of any other delightful ways to prepare artichokes? I have a couple more recipes for this remarkable vegetable coming up, but I’m always excited to hear of alternatives!


Photo credit: Nancy Anne Harbord

Please click here to see the formatted, printable recipe on Ramsons & Bramble

 

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