03 April 2014

AUNTIE PASTA: Artichokes and Potatoes Alla Genovese

CHIAVARI, Italy – Because the Romans in Sicily, and the Greeks before them, left us images of artichokes, we know that this green, spiny vegetable has been around for a long time. But we know this not just because of the images but because the Italian word for artichoke is carciofi – car cho fee, which turns out to be a cognate of the Arabic word kharshuff – car shoof.
 Artichoke Fields
This small detail tells us that the Sicilians were eating artichokes centuries before the Saracen’s invaded Sicily in the 800’s, and that they were brought there by the Arabs. But what fascinates me is that in Genovese dialect, the word for artichoke is artichoke, pronounced – ar tee cho kay. Now where did that come from?

So anyway, here we are 2,000 years later and we are still crazy about artichokes. In the small town of Cerda, near Palermo, they have an artichoke festa every April, and they have even gone so far as to put up a statue of an artichoke in their main piazza, which shows just how important this spiny vegetable is to their economy.

 Harvesting Artichokes
Earlier this week, as I was looking over the mounds of artichokes for sale at our daily outdoor market, I started talking to the woman standing next to me who was also buying artichokes. And as those conversations go, I asked her how she cooked them. She told me she cooks them, alla Genovese, in a frying pan with potatoes, and that they are delicious.

I had never cooked them that way and so later that day I posted a short query on Facebook asking if anyone had a recipe for artichokes and potatoes. As it turned out there were a lot of people who wanted a recipe but only a few actually had one. That  makes a whole lot of sense as this is a home style dish, the kind that cooks pass along one to another rather than the kind of recipe you’d find in a cookbook.

Nicoletta Contardi wrote to say that her mother made artichokes alla Genovese. I can tell by the way she wrote out the recipe that Nicoletta is a good cook, and it looks like her mother is too. By the way, soffritto is a finely diced mix of celery, carrots and onions, and it is the backbone of many, many Italian recipes. So for all you cooks out there, here is Signora Contardi’s recipe:

“You can make a little soffritto (if you like), then add the pieces of potatoes and artichokes and cook them slowly, adding some white wine and water or stock when the liquid evaporates. Sprinkle with parsley when they are ready. The artichokes must be cleaned and cut up in quarters.”
The second recipe came from Anna Maria B who said that she got her recipe from her mother-in-law. She also included a link for an Italian web site that had a step by step recipe:  (http://www.misya.info/2011/03/30/carciofi-e-patate.htm What follows is a translation of the recipe from that web site. 
 Artichokes and Potatoes

Serves 4

6 artichokes
3 potatoes
1 clove of garlic
1 cup of water
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil
Clean the artichokes, removing the tough outer leaves and most of the stem.

Cut each artichoke into four pieces and put them in a bowl of water along with a bit of lemon juice. This will keep them from turning brown.

Wash and peel the potatoes and cut them into pieces, as shown in the photo.

Put a little olive oil in a frying pan and add the garlic clove and a bit of parsley. Let the garlic brown and then add the artichokes and let them cook until they too have browned a little, then add the potatoes.

Add chopped parsley, the pepper and the water.

Mix the potatoes and artichokes, cover the frying pan and let cook over moderate heat for about 30 minutes. (Stir occasionally and add additional water/broth/white wine if needed).  

When they are cooked, remove the cover, salt them and serve them sprinkled with the rest of the fresh parsley.

And last, but not least, Chris Battaglia suggested adding a squeeze or two of lemon to the finished dish, which sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

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