Artichokes for the Choke

When a fruit or vegetable is in season in Italy, you know it. It takes center stage in every type of dish, from the simplest antipasto to the richest, boldest entree. Depending on the time of year, I could be talking about zucchini, tomatoes, or mushrooms. I just happened to get lucky last week. I was visiting Florence during artichoke season.

chokes

Can you believe it? I couldn’t. The sun was shining, the air smelled of springtime, and my favorite vegetable—carciofo in Italian—was absolutely everywhere. From fried artichoke hearts to whole globes stuffed with breadcrumbs, I have never encountered one I didn’t adore.

I started noticing the ubiquitous choke at my hotel’s restaurant. As I perused the menu on the first night, I realized that almost every other dish contained some sort of artichoke option. Among the appetizers were listed both an artichoke tart and grilled octopus with artichokes and citrus fruit. The secondi included a beef tagliata with an artichoke salad, and sea bass with artichokes, olives, and sun-dried tomatoes. Although they all sounded amazing, I felt like having pasta. I turned to the primi and chose the spaghetti al “macco” di carciofi, which translates to spaghetti with a sort of pureed artichoke sauce.

macco_adjusted

A perfectly cooked mound of al dente pasta coated with a creamy, smooth sauce of concentrated artichoke delight was placed in front of me. Rich yet light at the same time, this was possibly the best dish I encountered during my trip. I ate it two nights in a row before I forced myself to consider other items on the menu.

risotto_adjusted

At lunch one day I was confronted with another choke-based meal, this time in a risotto. For a few moments I wondered if I was going too crazy for carciofi, but I couldn’t resist them. Whole, tender artichoke hearts cooked with firm Arborio rice created a simple and satisfying mid-day treat. It wasn’t perfect—in fact, it was slightly too salty—but the creamy chokes still did themselves proud.

tagliata_adjusted

For my last meal in Florence I seriously considered getting that amazing spaghetti for the third time. In the end I decided to branch out to the secondi and try the beef tagliata with the artichoke salad. This time, the chokes were served raw and dressed simply with vinegar, acting as a crisp, refreshing accent to the rather rare fillet of beef that I received. 

I’m still thinking back to the intense artichoke-related joy I experienced last week. As has been said before and seen here, Italians know the true meaning of eating locally and seasonally. It’s kind of ironic that I had to fly to Italy to experience it, but I was more than up to the task. For my carciofi I’d do almost anything.

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9 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Nicki said,

    Mmmm… I’m so jealous. I’ve never thought of scheduling a vacation around artichoke season, but now I am thinking it’s a great reason!

  2. 2

    Christina said,

    Nicki-I know a lot of tourists plan their Italy travels around truffle season. I think artichokes deserve the same attention! Let’s start a campaign, shall we?

  3. 3

    emilyhall said,

    C: There’s a restaurant called–if you can believe it–Paola’s, on East 84th St., serves an unbelievable carciofi alla giudea. Maybe we should take a long lunch soon.

  4. 4

    Christina said,

    Emily-Sounds like a great plan! I’m there!

  5. 5

    Jonathan said,

    god, artichokes just remind me of spring. thanks for the eye candy!

  6. 6

    Ulla said,

    That looks incredible. My boyfriend loves artichoke! Thanks for all the inspiration!

  7. 7

    Christina said,

    Jonathan-You’re welcome! Looks like we’re both eagerly awaiting spring!

    Ulla-Glad you enjoyed the photos!

  8. 8

    Jennifer said,

    this post made me cry. i am in love with artichokes. i love your blog.

  9. 9

    Christina said,

    Jennifer-That’s so sweet! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for the compliment!


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