INSALATA DI CARCIOFI CRUDI CON GRANA
Although the island of San Erasmo is just 15 minutes from Venice by direct vaporetto, there is ordinarily no such service, and accordingly, visitors to San Erasmo are exceedingly rare. But today is a festival day on the Venetian lagoon’s largest island, and so the ferries are running direct, and the island's famed artichoke farmers are on hand to welcome visitors and introduce their wares...
Straight off the vaporetto we are greeted by growers offering a salad of raw carciofi. Messily piled onto a plastic plate, it is covered with freshly ground black pepper and topped a generous pile of shaved Parmesan. These artichokes are not the tough Globe variety with which we’re familiar though. Rather, they are a small and colourful type specific to the island called 'Il Violetto di San Erasmo,' available each spring, from the end of April until June. Leaves that turn outward make the Violetto quite spiny to the touch, but once the outer leaves are removed, it is possible to eat the rest raw and in just a couple of bites.
The below is my take on the delicious raw artichoke salad we were served on San Erasmo. It’s very similar, save for my addition of rocket, (which provides some colour, as well as helping bulk the salad out a little), an emphasis on lemon, (which really helps the artichokes retain their colour, for one, but also counteracts any bitterness in the raw artichoke), and the addition of a little mint (for additional freshness). The generous amounts of cheese and black pepper still form the backbone of the dish.
It is necessary to use young, tender artichokes for this salad. Violetti di San Erasmo may not be easy to find outside of the Rialto market, but other small Italian varieties of artichoke work equally well – try Ligurian spiny artichokes for instance, or any small artichoke picked sufficiently young.
(Serves 4 as a side)
- 12 Violetti di San Erasmo (or a similar small artichoke variety)
- Handful of fresh baby rocket leaves
- 6 tablespoons (approx.) of good quality extra virgin olive oil
- Juice of 3 lemons
- 60g Grana Pandano cheese
- A few mint leaves – finely sliced
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- White baguette – (optional, to serve)
Prepare the artichokes by removing all the outer leaves until you are left with only the tender heart and inner leaves. If it seems like a pity to throw away so many of the outer leaves, you could make a soup with these by adapting a recipe I have previously written up on this blog – see 'Stuffed Artichokes.'
Next, using a small paring knife, scrape down the stalks of the artichokes, removing the tough outer layer. Now trim the stalks so that they finish approximately 1cm below the base of the artichoke.
The prepared artichokes will rapidly discolour if left exposed to air for long. To prevent this, prepare an acidulated water bath by squeezing the juice of two lemons into a medium sized bowl of water. Once you have removed the outer leaves of each artichoke, and cleaned and trimmed the stem, pop it directly into the water bath. You can even rub a little lemon juice on the artichoke directly prior to placing in the water-bath to be extra certain that it will not discolour.
Assemble the salad immediately prior to serving by first scattering the baby rocket leaves across the platter that you intend to serve on. Next, remove the artichokes from the water-bath, one by one, and chop off approximately 5mm from the pointed tip (which is often quite spiny), before proceeding to slice each lengthways and very finely. Once sliced, place directly on the serving platter, along with a touch more lemon juice.
If the artichokes you are using are not ideally tender, it may be necessary to first remove the furry choke from the centre base of each artichoke before proceeding to slice. To do this, slice the artichokes in half lengthways and remove the chokes by scooping out with a pointed teaspoon or similar.
Once you have sliced each artichoke, and assembled these on the serving platter, dress the salad with extra virgin olive oil, the sliced mint leaves, some sea salt, and a very generous helping of black pepper.
Last of all, shave the Grana Pandano finely over the entire salad, letting this form a scenic pile in the centre of the dish. Serve straight away, accompanied by some thin slices of baguette.