Deep-fried Artichokes (Carciofi alla Guidia)

13 October 2012

“'Do you think Timmy would like me to fry him a few dog biscuits, instead of having them cold?' said Anne, suddenly. 'Fried things are so nice'” 
I’d given up on artichokes, really I had. But on a trip to the wonderful Blackheath farmers’ market, I came across a whole boxful of stunning varieties at the Nick Harper Produce stall, and they seemed to just follow me home.

I think I slightly offended the stallholder when I asked if they were grown in this country. I didn't think artichokes could be grown commercially in our soggy climate - certainly my own attempts to grow a few of these supposedly tough, thistly plants a few years back ended in blackfly-laden disaster - but apparently they can.

A momentary diversion to enjoy an excellent coffee and exemplary bacon sandwich at Hand Made Food just up the road:

They make their own ketchup. It is astonishingly good, richly spiced and bursting with sweet, ripe tomato, and I ate it with a spoon, once the sandwich ran out.

Back home, I pull my treasures out of their paper bags.

The first is a deep, pulsating purple with wicked golden spines. It looks to me more like some jungle flower or exotic fruit; but actually this is closest to the wild, Sicilian artichokes that cultivated artichokes are descended from. I've put it in a glass of water, like a bunch of flowers, to keep for later.

I also have two of these tiny beauties, no more than 3 inches across, small enough not to have a choke lurking inside and therefore ideal for what I have in mind: deep frying them whole, in classic Roman Jewish style.

The heart-shaped leaves have little notches where the spines would normally be, so these need only the bare minimum of trimming before going into the pan.

Like proper chips, they're deep fried twice: once, gently, to soften them, and then again at a higher temperature to render them brown and crispy. The result is a not entirely unlike crisps. A flower made of crisps perhaps, with the earthy artichoke sweetness running through it. Lovely.

Carciofi alla Giudia

Allow one artichoke per person - choose the smallest and freshest you can find
A couple of lemon halves or a tablespoon of vinegar in a bowl of water
Sunflower oil for deep frying
Mayonnaise and lemon wedges, to serve

First, prepare the artichokes. Pull off the tough outer leaves, then using a small sharp knife, pare any remaining bits of the outer leaves from the base, and peel the stem. Trim the stem by a few centimetres to remove any discoloured, dried out or woody parts, and rub a lemon half over all the cut parts to prevent discolouration. Use kitchen scissors to cut off any spines, and to trim the top third off the larger remaining leaves. Drop the artichokes into a bowl of acidulated water and leave for at least 10 minutes.

Meanwhile heat your oil to around 100°C.

When you're ready, pull the artichokes out and drain upside down on kitchen paper. Beat them gently against each other so that the petals start to open out like a rose. When I had this dish in Rome, the artichokes were beaten completely flat, but I think this way is prettier.

Drop the artichokes into the oil, and leave for around 10 minutes, until they are soft enough to spear with a fork. Remove and drain on several sheets of kitchen paper, and season generously with salt and pepper. Gently pull the petals apart with a fork if needed to open the artichoke out fully.

Turn up the heat, until the oil reaches 180°C. Drop the artichokes in again until crisp and browned - this will only take around 30 seconds. Drain well and serve warm, with plenty of salt, a spoonful of mayonnaise, and a lemon wedge on the side.

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1 comment:

  1. Love the Famous Five quote. Four kids who should have been massively obese given the sheer quantity of food they scoffed on a daily basis.