Carciofi alla Romana: The Other Delicious Roman Artichoke Dish

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[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

There are many reasons not to cook artichokes out of season, the least obvious of which is that they can spontaneously combust. I'm not joking. I was trimming some leathery artichokes a few months ago, in the middle of summer, and they began to catch fire from the friction of the blade as I sliced through the dry, woody leaves. You can see proof of it on this Twitter thread.

Artichokes that suddenly ignite might be a sign that I shouldn't be publishing a recipe for them in October, but thanks to California's climate, you can usually get fresh artichokes this time of year, even though spring is when they're most abundant. Given this brief window of opportunity, I couldn't resist sharing the classic recipe for carciofi alla romana (Roman braised artichokes).

Artichokes play an important role in Italian cooking. The country grows about 10 times as many tons of the crop as the US does, and artichokes find their way to the table in many forms: raw, fried, braised, or roasted. And, while you can find artichoke recipes all over Italy, Rome is home to two of the most famous: carciofi alla giudia (Jewish-style fried artichokes) and the carciofi alla romana I'm focusing on here.

The most challenging thing about making carciofi alla romana is cleaning the artichokes, which I've gone over in detail (including video!) in another article.

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This recipe works with both large and small artichokes, though cooking times are shorter for smaller ones.

In Rome, they often use a special variety of globe artichoke that's free of spines and the inedible, hairy choke, but it can be hard to find that kind here. Our artichokes work, too, but we have to trim away all the spiky and tough woody parts, along with the choke. The Roman artichokes often have much larger stems attached, which allows for a more dramatic presentation of the dish, the thick, long stems rising like gently bowed spires. I tried to keep my stems attached for these photos, too, but they were much shorter, thinner, and more prone to accidentally breaking off during trimming. It's fine if that happens; you can just cook the broken-off stems alongside the cleaned artichoke hearts.

The ingredients for carciofi alla romana are few. You need olive oil, white wine, garlic, and herbs. The herbs present a small challenge. In Rome, they use an herb that's sometimes called mentuccia and sometimes called nepitella, a type of calamint. It's not easy to find.

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Most recipes just shrug it off by calling for fresh mint instead, but nepitella doesn't quite taste like mint. It has a woodsier, oregano-like quality that mint alone fails to deliver. The best solution, I think, is to combine fresh oregano and mint to better approximate the flavor and aroma of nepitella. Parsley is often included along with the nepitella, helping to buffer the latter herb's intensity, so I mix some parsley into the herbs in my recipe as well.

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After that, I rub the concave side of the artichoke hearts with the minced herbs and garlic, trying to pack some of it into the leafy crevices, then set them upside down in a pot or Dutch oven that's just large enough to accommodate them all side by side. I add olive oil and white wine, bring the pot to a simmer, and cover.

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The artichokes gently cook in the pot, partly steaming in the wine's vapors, partly poaching in the olive oil, until they're supremely tender.

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To serve, just transfer them to a platter and drizzle the cooking juices all over, plus maybe an extra drizzle of fresh olive oil just to punch up the flavor a little. They get even better as they cool down to room temp, so no rush eating them right away. I guarantee you, though: They will not catch fire when you finally do slide your fork through them.

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