A visit to Italy in Spring may mean you miss the fresh tomatoes and the exquisite truffles, but I discovered a different seasonal highlight – artichokes! From the Roman ghetto there comes a particular fried specialty called Carciofi alla Giudia which translates into Jewish style artichokes.
We were lucky enough to catch the tail end of the season in early May, and what a treat, in fact of the many fabulous dishes we tasted in Rome, this was potentially our very favorite – even if the only real ingredients are artichokes and salt. Now that it is artichoke season in the Pacific Northwest, I was very eager to try and replicate the memory.
The trick to getting them tender but crispy is to fry them twice, similar to French fries. The first fry is done in oil at a lower temperature, and the second in a hot oil to crisp them and open them up. The outside of the carciofi turn out crunchy and taste almost like lightly bitter chips, while the soft insides still have their delicate artichoke flavour. Even my vegetable-shy father tried one of these and enjoyed it – his first artichoke ever.
Don’t forget to read through the tips on deep frying before you make these. Many sources recommend to sprinkle the leaves with water while frying to get them to crisp. My fear of hot oil and water is far too great for me to try anything like that – but you will be happy to know that they turned out as I remembered them without this dangerous step.
Carciofi alla Giudia (Fried Artichokes)(4 artichokes)
Get everything ready so that you can do the first fry, that means get your oil in a deep frying safe pot, you will need at least 1.5" of oil, ideally 2". Also fill a bowl of cold water and squeeze half the lemon into it. Start the oil on low-medium heat to slowly bring it to temperature while you prep the artichokes.
To prepare the artichokes do it one at a time. First remove all hard outer leaves, then trim the top 1/3 off, and immediately rub the exposed flesh with the remaining half a lemon. Scrape the fibrous skin off of each stem. Trim the stems to less than an inch each. Add to the bowl of acidulated water. Repeat with remaining artichokes.
Check the temperature of the oil and allow it to come up to approximately 250F. You will need to cook the artichokes through so they are soft which takes about 10 minutes. With a clean kitchen towel dry each artichoke as much as possible and then add to the oil. Fry the artichokes for 10 minutes, turning regularly so they cook evenly. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. Allow to sit until they are cool and dry. In the meantime turn off your oil until you are ready to fry again. (This part is easy enough to do ahead of time, and then you can fry again to order.)
When you are ready to eat them (and make sure you are ready, as you should serve them immediately), get ready with some more paper towels and salt on the side. Bring your oil to 350F. Carefully place each artichoke in the oil and with tongs, press each one down on the bottom of the pan to encourage it to open up into a flower. They brown very fast, so this is likely all the time you need if they are golden brown, otherwise give them a few more seconds. Carefully remove to a paper towel, toss and blot to remove any excess oil and immediately sprinkle with salt. Serve hot!