There are certain dishes that I love eating when in Florence, seated at a bustling and often crowded trattoria at lunchtime, because firstly, there’s the atmosphere that is just as much part of the dish as the bare ingredients and secondly, there is something so nice about having these things made for you by well-versed hands.
But I finally decided that this in particular, these plump, melting, whole artichokes, cooked in a simple Tuscan manner with just the right accompaniments, is a dish that I should make at home so that I can have it as often as I want when I’m not in Florence. And it a good decision it was.
Carciofi ritti – named for the way they are cooking “standing up” – are trimmed of their outer leaves and stalk, as well as the little fluffy bit in the middle, and are then simply arranged in a pan so that they fit snugly enough to hold each other upright. They’re stuffed with a flavourful little mixture of pancetta, garlic, sliced eschalot or onion, celery leaves and parsley and cooked in whatever liquid you have on hand (water, stock or white wine) until you can cut them like butter.
Artusi includes this Florentine dish amongst his 790 recipes but his version is much simpler, stuffed with just the stalks and seasoned only with salt, pepper and good oil.
They make a divine side dish to accompany a roast, for example, or are lovely just on their own as a light meal with some very good bread and extra virgin olive oil.
Carciofi ritti (stuffed, stewed artichokes)
- 4 whole, fresh artichokes
- 1 lemon, cut in half
- 2-3 slices of pancetta, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 1 eschalot (or small onion), finely chopped
- A handful of celery leaves
- some water, vegetable stock or white wine
- Several sprigs of parsley, chopped
Clean the artichokes by trimming them of the stem (keep these aside) and the hard, outer leaves. Chop the top half of what remains of the artichoke off completely and finally, with a teaspoon or even scissors, try to remove the fluffy inside. This last part isn’t always necessary – if it’s a younger, tender artichoke there may not be any need to do this. As they’re ready, rub the cut leaves with half a lemon and place them a bowl of water with the other lemon half squeezed into it.
In a pan, saute the pancetta, garlic, eschalot and celery leaves, along with the stems of the artichokes, chopped finely, in some olive oil until the vegetables are soft, not coloured, and the fat of the pancetta has melted.
Tease open the leaves of the artichokes a little bit, particularly from the centre. Arrange the artichokes, cut side up, in a pan so they are all facing up. Spoon the pancetta mixture over the centre of each artichoke and pour in some stock, white wine or water about halfway up the artichokes. Cover and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes or until the artichokes are soft – poke a knife into the side, it should slide in as easy as butter.
Serve with some freshly chopped parsley scattered over the top.