And here is the recipe for the Insalata di Carciofi I had at Roscioli, in Roma. It contains both warm and cold artichokes, so it plays with temperatures; it plays with consistency, as it contains soft cooked artichokes, crunchy raw artichokes, and very crunchy toasted pine nuts. But what really won me over is the flavour symphony. Artichokes at their best are bitter at first taste, with extremely sweet undertones revealed afterwards. This salad complements the flavour by adding the bitterness of rocket and walnut oil, so that the sweet component of artichokes shines; the nutty walnut taste is amplified by the toasted pine nuts. A fresh note of acidity comes from the raw artichokes dressed with lemon juice, and more freshness comes from the herbs the artichokes are cooked with, I think they were originally coriander and ‘mentuccia’, a mint relative that is traditional with artichokes in Rome. I used only coriander and it worked quite well.
The original also included some braised carrots, zigzag cut at about 1 cm thickness, cooked to softness with the artichokes. I am not a huge fan of cooked carrots in general, but they worked quite well there because they were basically tasteless, and they provided a slightly sweet break from the other very intense flavours in the dish, besides adding a very pretty contrasting colour to the dish. My artichokes were not as flavourful, being bought here in Germany, so I omitted them with no second thought. Also I don’t have a zigzag cutter so they would not have been so cute.
Insalata di carciofi cotti e crudi
Ingredient: serves 2
a handful of rocket
2 tablespoon pine nuts
extra virgin olive oil
a small handful coriander leaves
1 garlic clove
Start by cleaning the artichokes. Take off all the leaves you suspect of toughness. Be generous here. I have ruined too many artichokes dishes by leaving tough leaves, and you want your artichokes to be very soft. Cut a bit the stem if needed, but you should keep it quite long – at least 5 cm if you bought artichokes with a stem. Take off the hard strings from the stem. Cut the artichoke in half lengthwise, or in three or four parts depending on size. Take off the ‘barba’, the little white hair that almost all not overly fresh artichokes have at the center of the flower. Drop the artichoke in a bowl of cold water where you have squeezed half a lemon. Put one clean artichoke aside for eating raw. For the others, put them in a heavy bottomed pan together with a garlic clove, dressed, the coriander, half a glass of water and abundant extra virgin olive oil, about 4-5 tablespoons. Add a bit of salt and black pepper. Poach the artichokes gently until they are very tender but not overcooked, about 20-30 min, but it could take less time, so do check. If you are an addict of pressure cookers, like me, you can use it with excellent results. They’ll need to cook for about 5-10 min there. In the end you’ll have also a restricted cooking liquid which is full of flavour.
Meanwhile wash and dry the rocket. In a little pan warm some olive oil and brown the pine nuts there until they are nearly burned (of course they should not burn).
Slice the raw artichoke as thinly as you can. I have, surprisingly, a food slicer, so I was able to slice the artichokes lengthwise. If all you have is a knife, you’ll probably be able to slice them thinner in the other direction. Dress them immediately with the juice of half lemon, salt and olive oil.
To serve: place the hot/warm artichokes on a dish, like a star, with the stems towards the center. Put a little mountain on raw artichoke in the center, scatter all over rocket leaves and pine nuts, and finish off with a generous amount of walnut oil and one or two tablespoons of the cooking liquid of the artichokes.