Tuesday, April 10, 2012
After all of the artichoke photos I’ve been posting on Facebook and Twitter for the last couple of weeks, I’m finally getting around to a recipe. But really. I couldn’t help myself with the picture taking thing. This year, for some reason, the artichokes are beyond beautiful. Big, fat, purple and green orbs. The grassy, slightly bitter and 100% spring smell of them hit me each time I walked into Campo de’ Fiori.
They were piled up in virtual carciofi mountains at every vendor. Gigetto even had an artichoke tree made up of about 100 artichokes in front of their restaurant. They were all just waiting to have their pictures taken.
Of course I managed to eat a lot of them, here and here. But when I finally got around to actually cooking me some artichokes they turned out to be not the round, smooth beauties that we get in Rome. Instead, while shopping for Easter lunch up in Todi I ended up with a few kilos of the pointy, violet variety that shows up this time of year in Umbria.
I pick up a couple of dozen each year from the fruttivendolo in Ponte Rio. He has a friend grow them especially for him, and says they are called “Apollo.” And they are as dangerous to trim and clean as they are delicious. (Which is why I guess no one else is marketing them).
The delicious part is obvious once you taste them. The danger comes in the form of the super sharp thorns on the tip of each petal. Very pretty. And pretty sharp. (I had to have Domenico’s Zia Tetta pull at least five of them out of my thumb.)
But I persisted, since it was Easter and I have this thing about artichokes and pasta for this holiday. Last year it was lasagna. This year, I had picked up some hand made pasta in Basilicata. I am pretty sure this shape is called capunti. It’s more or less like a long version of orecchiette. Sort of canoe shaped.
So. Capunti con carciofi.
Once I got those damn carciofi trimmed, the rest was actually very easy. The sauce itself is sauteed artichokes, cut into slices, and cooked until tender with wild mint, mentuccia, that I picked in the yard. And of course garlic and salt and pepper.
While down in Basilicata I learned a trick from the chef at the hotel I was writing about. Rather than serve the pasta immediately once it was cooked, for these types of pasta - (orecchiette, capunti, etc.) which are made from semolina flour and so are pretty sturdy - she drains the pasta and then adds it to the wet sauce to absorb some of the flavors, letting it rest for about 15 minutes. Only then does she add the cheese, give it a toss and serve.
Since I was channeling Southern Basilicata in this recipe I decided to eschew Northern parmigiano in favor of a goat milk pecorino I picked up in Orte, at the Neopolitan store, along with some crumblings of ricotta salata. The pecorino was a nice, sharp contrast to the sweet artichokes, and the ricotta was not only pretty, but made the entire dish creamy once it was mixed in.
The only thing I can possibly complain about with this artichoke recipe - in fact with almost any artichoke pasta recipe - is that there is no way the finished dish can be as drop dead gorgeous as the artichokes before they are cooked. But that's ok. I have my camera. And we are headed back to Rome today. Where I know there are plenty of carciofi just waiting for me, begging to be photographed.
Pasta with Artichokes and Wild Mint
1/2 pound capunti or orecchiette (or other short pasta)
6 large, fresh artichokes, trimmed and sliced (see here and here for how-to)
1 small bunch fresh mint (about 1/2 cup leaves)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
6 tablespoons olive oil plus 2 tablespoons
1/2 cup finely grated pecorino cheese
1/2 cup roughly grated ricotta salata
Trim and cut the artichokes, keeping them in acidulated water until ready to use.
Pour 6 tablespoons oil into pan large enough to hold all of the artichokes and pasta.
Add drained and dried artichokes. Stir and cook over medium heat for a few minutes. Add garlic, salt and pepper and cook for another few minutes, until garlic is fragrant. Add mint and stir. Add about a cup of water. Let cook until tender, adding more water if necessary. Keep tasting, and at the end you should have about a half cup of liquid along with the artichokes. Keep warm.
Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook until very al dente. Drain, reserving about a cup of pasta water. Add pasta to artichokes and stir over medium heat. Add about a half cup of the pasta water, cover and let sit for about 10 to 15 minutes.
To serve, take lid off, and add grated pecorino, a bit at a time, stirring and adding a bit more pasta water to keep moist. Add rest of olive oil, stir and place in individual bowls. Top with ricotta salata and serve.