This is my version of one of my favorite Roman foods: carciofi alla giuda, whole fried artichokes in olive oil. They’re served at outdoor cafés in the spring, on brown parchment, with a bit of lemon on the side—perfect with a glass of Frascati wine. But they’re also a big mess—fatal to your manners and dangerous to your clothing, not to mention that worn by passersby—and they require a gallon or so of expensive olive oil. So in this version, I cut out the outer leaves and cook down the artichokes before I fry them, to make them less greasy. And to balance them out, I add a sauce with cool mint, heat, spice, and sweetness, plus a little bit of tartness from the yogurt.
The precooking definitely makes this recipe a little labor-intensive, but it’s worth the work: it’s total impress-the-guests stuff that’s fun to eat. You can serve this at a fancy dinner, or just as high-concept Superbowl or Oscar food; the sauce is great with wings, too.
- 2 cups white wine
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon whole fennel seed
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 6 large artichokes
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon hot pepper flakes or harissa juice and zest of 1 lemon
- A pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ¼ cup mint leaves, rough-chopped lightly to avoid bruising
- 6 cups corn oil or grape seed oil
- 2 heaping teaspoons flour
- A generous pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon Parmigiano-Reggiano
To prepare the Artichokes:
1. Combine the wine, red pepper flakes, fennel seed, bay leaves, and salt with 12 cups of water in a large pot. Set aside.
2. Clean the artichokes: Cut off the bottom of each stem, leaving about half the stem intact. Pull off the tough outer leaves, revealing the closely packed, tender leaves in the center; they will be tight around the bud, and should be a soft pale-green springtime color. Use a small paring knife to peel off the remnants of the outer leaves from around the base of the bud, and then peel the base and the stem with the knife until you reach the inside, which is the same light color as the bud. Cut off the top of the bud so the purple heart inside is exposed. Once each artichoke is cleaned, put it in the pot with the wine-water mixture.
3. Put the pot on the stove on high heat and bring the liquid to a rolling boil, then turn the heat down to low and cook at a slow simmer for about 30 minutes, until a sharp knife easily penetrates the artichokes. The outer leaves of the artichoke will turn green-brown as they cook. (At the restaurant, we use Vitamin C powder and a whole lot of white wine to keep the artichokes white; at home, this is way too much trouble, so I just let mine go khaki-colored.) Allow the pot to cool down until you can handle it comfortably, and then cool the whole thing in the fridge, uncovered, for at least 1 hour.
4. When the artichokes have cooled, remove them from the pot and slice each one in half lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out the fibrous, furry bit at the center of the bulb-the bit that looks like the stamens of a flower, or the interesting part of a Georgia O’Keeffe painting-and the purple leaves that are attached to it. Leave the rest of the leaves, the stem, and the choke (the meaty top part of the artichoke below the stem) intact.
To prepare the yogurt-mint sauce:
1. Combine the yogurt, ¼ cup of water, olive oil, crushed hot pepper or harissa, lemon juice and zest, salt, sugar, and mint leaves, in that order, whisking them together as you go until the sauce is well combined.
To fry the artichokes and finish the dish:
1. Heat the oil in a fryer or a large pot with high sides on high heat on the stove.
2. Place the flour in a large bowl. Dry the artichokes a bit on paper towels. Toss each artichoke in the flour with your hands, being sure to coat it thoroughly. Don’t worry if some of the artichoke leaves come off: you can fry those, too, and they’ll make crispy and delicious additions.
3. When the oil reaches about 375° (that is, when you put in a test artichoke and it crackles), put the artichokes in to fry in batches of 3 or 4, so they’re not crowded. Fry for about 1 minute, until the leaves are brown and crispy (they should look a bit like a dried flower—they’re really beautiful).
4. Remove with a spider or slotted spoon to a paper-towel-lined plate and sprinkle immediately with salt, so that the salt adheres to the oil on the artichokes. Spread a thick coating of the yogurt sauce on a plate or serving platter. Put the artichokes on top and sprinkle the Parmigiano cheese over them. If there’s sauce left over, use it for dipping.