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Snapshots from Italy: Tagliatelle with Artichokes, Leeks, and Lemon

Spring vegetables arrive shockingly early in Rome to the eyes of this American. As the availability of puntarelle has waned, artichokes have burst onto the scene as the first harbingers of primavera.

Nobody celebrates the artichoke like Romans, and at the produce market, artichokes harvested from the countryside surrounding Rome are always the first choice of shoppers; they are a specific variety that thrives in the volcanic soil from the valleys surrounding Monte Cimino, Lake Bracciano, and Lake Vico.

Huge, purple-green globes have taken over the town, piled high in the open-air markets and artfully arranged at the entrance of Roman restaurants and trattorie. A bouquet of artichokes in the window means there may be carciofi alla guidea (crisp and deep-fried), alla Romana (braised in olive oil, with red onion, garlic and fresh mint), or any number of other artichoke delights on the menu tonight.

The memory of a recent plate of tagliatelle at my local "trat" has been haunting me, served with artichokes, lemon, and red pepper flakes bathed in fruity olive oil. As with most Italian food, the perfection was found in the balance and interplay of the flavors and textures: al dente pasta and tender artichokes with the brightness of lemon and an occasional zing from just a touch of peperoncino.

I decided to re-create it at home with my first artichoke purchase of 2008. Instead of seasoning the dish with sliced garlic as they did at my trattoria, I used a tender, young leek that also caught my eye at the market.

There's a lot of good information on the web on how to clean an artichoke; the most important step is to have a bowl of water with lemon juice ready; all of the prepped artichoke should go in the acidulated water immediately after cutting to prevent it from discoloring.

A light grating of pecorino Romano finishes this dish off perfectly.

Buon Apetito!

About the author: Gina DePalma is the pastry chef at Mario Batali's Babbo restaurant in New York City and the author of Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen. She is currently in Rome researching her next book and further exploring her passions for Italian food.

Tagliatelle with Artichokes, Leeks and Lemon

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