In San Diego we have it easy, weather wise. But these last few weeks have been chilly and wet. Temps down into the 30s in the morning and lots and lots of rain. Personally, I’m loving it. I get to wear heavy wool sweaters and indulge in stews and soups that usually are just to heavy for balmy weather.

But as we wind up February it’s all starting to get old and, like you no doubt, I’m looking forward to spring. In that spirit I offer a spring dish you may not have heard of: Carciofi alla Giudia: Roman Jewish-Style Baby Artichokes.

If you weren’t aware of this, there’s a whole category of food related to Italian Jews. According to the book, Tasting Rome, the Jewish community there evolved from a 16th-century migration from Spain—and much later, in the 1970s from Libya. Forced to live in a walled ghetto for centuries, Roman Jews created their own cuisine from limited resources, authors Katie Parla and Kristina Gill say. It’s called the “cucina ebraica romanesca”—or Roman Jewish cuisine. When Libyan Jews fled North Africa from antisemitic violence and landed in Rome in the late ‘60s, they brought their cuisine, “La Cucina Tripolina.”

One of the most famous dishes that come out of the original cucina ebraica romanesca is deep-fried artichokes, or Carciofi alla Guidia. I actually came to this dish about five years ago in San Diego at a restaurant that has since closed. This dish was the best thing on their menu, and I was lucky that the owner invited me to the restaurant to teach me how to make it.

While restaurants can order prepared artichokes from Italy, the best way to make it, of course, is with fresh artichokes when they’re in season. Look for young, medium-sized artichokes that haven’t developed enough to have a fuzzy choke. Strip the dark, tough outer leaves until you hit the soft, lighter green leaves. Keep the stem intact. As you prep the artichokes add the finished ones to a large bowl of cold water with lemon juice to keep them from discoloring. Then you’ll simmer them in a mixture of olive oil, water, and garlic until they’re tender. At that point, you can strain them for the dish and save the liquid for sauteing later.

Then you have two options. Either saute the artichokes first, then run the pan under the broiler for a few minutes to crisp. Or put them in a 500-degree convection oven for a few minutes, then pull out the pan and settle it on the stove top to crisp. It works fine either way. When the artichokes are done, remove them from the pan, add some chopped parsley and basil to the pan with slices of garlic and saute for a minute or two. Add them and some uncooked parsley and basil to garnish. That’s it.

Carciofi alla Giudia
10 servings based on 3 artichokes per serving

To prepare artichokes:
30 baby artichokes, intact
Bowl of water and juice of one lemon
Half gallon olive oil (extra virgin oil isn’t necessary)
10 ounces water (optional so you don’t have to use so much oil)
12 cloves garlic

To prepare each serving:
3 prepped artichokes
1 clove garlic, sliced
garlic-infused olive oil from the prep above
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Strip off tough artichoke leaves until you reach the tender, light green leaves. Place cleaned artichokes in lemon water.

2. Bring olive oil, water, and garlic cloves to a boil. Add the artichokes and simmer until tender.

3. Remove artichokes strain, and keep the liquid.

4. Pre-heat the oven to broil. Heat an oven-ready skillet and add olive oil mix to the pan with sliced garlic and salt and pepper. Spread the leaves of each of three artichokes to look like a blooming flower and place on the pan. Saute for a few minutes, then put the skillet under the broiler for four to five minutes to crisp.

5. Remove skillet from the oven and remove the artichokes to a plate. Add a small handful of herbs and briefly saute with the garlic. Then add to the artichokes on the plate. Garnish with more herbs and serve.

What are you most looking forward to cooking this spring? What are your clients telling you they’re craving?

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