The Italy News Online series on the delights of Italian cuisine heads to the country’s capital, Rome. And it is in the Jewish Quarter that we find the delectable carciofi alla Giudia or ‘Jewish artichokes’.
Rome, a city where millennia of history sits amongst the accoutrements of modern life, is not a place you can rush. After a week, a month, in its environs there will still be more to see. Ancient Roman architecture and monuments, the power and glory of the Roman Catholic Church, sculpture that awes and the little gems that seem to pop up around every corner. Wherever you go in Rome be sure to take your imagination with you.
On one of my visits, I stood in the Circo Massimo looking up at the vast arches of brown stone rising up from behind trees on the Palatine Hill; a reminder of Ancient Rome’s glory days. The Circus stretched away from me. Discussions continue as to whether it was large enough to hold chariot races there. Some think the cornering would have been too tight and foot races were a more likely event. Standing in the centre, I preferred to imagine the thundering of hooves, the snorting of horses, the creaking of the skin and leather bindings of the chariots and the yells of charioteers as they urged their steeds around the circus to raucous cheers from the crowd.
Treatment of Jews
During various times in Rome’s history, Jews, immigrants and foreigners could not reside in the city. The Ponte Fabricio bridge (Pons Judaecum) was their commuter route into it from the Trastevere area.
A papal bull in the sixteenth century forced the Jews to live in a walled ghetto on the other side of the river to Trastevere. There they remained until the unification of Italy in 1861 allowed them to live freely. Eventually the city demolished the ghetto and erected modern buildings. I found the ghetto to be one of the most charming areas of the city. However, this is a sanitised version of the area in which Jews were effectively incarcerated for centuries.
Discovering carciofi alla Giudia
The synagogue is a modern building erected in 1904 on the site of the old synagogue. I wandered along narrow, twisting streets coming across the Piazza Mattei with its Renaissance fountain and along the via del Portico d’Ottavia. It was quite a street with its plethora of kosher fast-food joints, food shops and restaurants nestled amongst a mixture of medieval and modern buildings. Many of the eateries offered carciofi alla Giudia, deep-fried artichokes, a speciality of Jewish Rome.
Shaped like a flower, preparation of these delicious artichokes requires deep frying; not to be confused with the other Roman method of preparation – carciofi alla romana. The final product is like chips, which are lovely with a lemon vinaigrette to degrease them.
Carciofi all Giudia
- 4 medium artichokes (if you can find the violets, these are perfect for the flower look).
- Lots of Olive Oil
- Bowl of water with the juice of a lemon
- Prepare the artichokes. Start by cleaning them – remove the tough end of the stem. Then remove the toughest outer part of the stem left over from the cut part at the base of the artichoke. Discard the outermost leaves until you reach those that have a lighter color at the base. To make the leaves open well, beat the artichoke on a cutting board holding it by the stem without pressing too hard so as not to break the leaves
- Place each prepared artichoke in the bowl of lemon water until they are all ready. This will prevent any browning of the vegetable.
- In a deep pan, heat enough oil to cover the artichokes. The oil should be 300 degrees, hot but not spitting hot. Add the artichokes and fry for about 10-15 minutes until they are golden brown. Remove from the oil.
- Leave them to cool, then separate the leaves out and sprinkle with a little salt before returning them to the hot oil for a couple more minutes to crisp.