Fried Artichokes – Fondi di Carciofi in Tècia
Sitting on the shaded terrace of Ca’ Vignotto, the only restaurant on the Venetian island of Sant’Erasmo, we are about to enjoy a three-course lunch of artichokes…
Originally, the courses had only numbered two – a marinated artichoke antipasto to start, followed by a penne pasta with artichoke, but the waiter remained there looking confused after we’d finished ordering. ‘You are not also having the carciofi in tècia?’ he inquired. ‘It’s what people come here for!’ And so a third course of pan-cooked artichokes was added to the already thistle-laden feast.
Although the island is only 15 minutes from Venice by direct vaporetto, there is ordinarily no such service, and accordingly, visitors to San Erasmo are exceedingly rare. Similarly, it is not normally possible to just stroll up the path to Ca’ Vignotto and sit down for lunch unannounced, they usually like to be given a bit of notice that you're coming! But today is a festival day on the Venetian lagoon’s largest island, and so the ferries are running direct, the restaurant is to open to all comers, and the locals are out and about in order to celebrate what the island is most famous for – its artichokes!
As promised, the Carciofi in Tècia were the highlight of our feast. Just the very base of the artichoke is used for this dish, not the ‘heart’ exactly, but the fondo. As Venetians know, these are best brought pre-prepared from the Rialto market or from a fruttivendolo. Masters of artichoke trimming, it not uncommon to see local greengrocers paring away the leaves of an artichoke and whittling down its stem with swift little strokes while casually chatting to passers by. The cut fondi are then dispatched to a bucket of water, ready to be purchased, usually in minimums of five or six, with a bit of the water thrown in the bag to keep them fresh.
It’s easy to prepare carciofi in tècia, especially when all the trimming has been done for you! Just cook until tender in a stock of vegetables, then fry in olive oil and garlic, finishing with some lemon and parsley. This dish is also great for using up older artichokes that might have grown too large or past their best. Once all the outer leaves and stem have been cleaned away, you’ll find the base itself is still perfectly tender and delicious.
(Serves 2 as a side dish)
- 6 medium-sized artichokes or pre-prepared fresh artichoke bases (fondi di carciofi)
- 650ml fresh vegetable stock
- 100ml extra virgin olive oil
- 3 medium cloves of garlic – finely sliced
- Juice of ½ a lemon
- 1 small bunch of parsley – finely chopped
- Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
If you are preparing the artichokes yourself, do so by cutting away all the leaves and the stem, and removing the furry choke to reveal the flat base of the artichoke. One cut, place immediately in a little water with lemon juice added to prevent discolouration (they will go brown if left exposed to the air).
Bring the vegetable stock to a boil in a medium saucepan, then add the artichoke bases. Cook for 10 minutes or until tender. Strain in a colander, then carefully pat dry using a tea towel.
In a wide pan, heat the olive oil, and fry the garlic over a medium heat, taking care it doesn’t burn. When the garlic is almost golden, remove it from the oil, and momentarily put aside.
Next, add the artichokes to the oil, and fry until golden at the edges. Return the garlic to the pan, and add half of the parsley. Continue to fry everything together for a further minute or two.
Once the garlic is once again sizzling, remove from the heat, squeeze over the lemon juice, and season generously with salt and pepper.
Arrange the artichokes on a serving dish, then pour over the cooking liquid over the top, along with the rest of the parsley.