Travel: Carciofi alla giudìa, Rome- artichokes made according to heritage Jewish cuisine

Prior to our trip to Rome in July 2019, our #ItalianFriend urged us to experience Carciofi alla giudìa.

Carciofa is Italian for artichokes and pronounced, I am told, as karchoffa. Guida is Italian for Jewish. The meaning is broadly translated as -artichokes in the Jewish style.

‘Jewish Artichokes’ does not begin to explain the dish. Carciofi alla giudìa conjures up Roman Jewish food. This is about eating artichokes in the Jewish Roman style of cooking. One could mention bagel and lox/salmon and it could be a New York bagel or a Montreal bagel with salmon or bagel in another city. Carciofa all giuda signifies artichokes, prepared in the Jewish style, prepared according to ancient Jewish cooking traditions, in Rome.

The dish apparently originated in the Rome, in the Jewish community, in its Ghetto- from around the 16th century. I am unable to verify exactly when someone had the idea of pulling the eaves apart and deep frying them and then seasoning them with butter, olive oil, a dash of lemon and salt and serving them like petals of a bouquet of flowers on a triangle of paper (presumably to simulate the sense of a bouquet of flowers, contained by a cone of paper). Fresh artichokes tend to be abundant – and cheap- in Rome and someone decided to be creative. The dish has been around for a long time and although it may be found in other cities in Italy, such as Naples (check out the comments from TheCapeRobyn post on Instagram), Carciofi alla giudìa is associated with Rome.

Our #ItalianFriend told us that in 2018, there was a kerfuffle, when the Chief Rabbinate of Israel apparently issued an advisory that artichokes are not kosher because the clusters of densely packed leaves may harbour insects (goggas – as we say in Afrikaans- a great name). I cannot verify this advisory. There are reports on the internet but I cannot locate a reliable source. Anyway, according to our #Italianfriend and the accounts on the internet, the Roman Jews were understandably horrified at the de sanctification of this heritage dish. After thousands of years, suddenly artichokes are not kosher? C’mon. As far as I can ascertain, it was an advisory that was issued, not a ruling.

Artichokes are a vegetable. (Some say flower. Some say fruit; commonly accepted as ‘vegetable’). According to my knowledge, artichokes are kosher. In South Africa, we have been served artichokes at Orthodox celebratory feasts – fresh and tinned. We have eaten them in private homes, where the laws of Kashrut are observed. No one has said anything about them not being kosher so I was flummoxed by the 2018 controversy. There have been similar “advisories” over broccoli and strawberries with various Jewish authorities instructing that that these food items must be scrubbed of soil and grit, to avoid a non-kosher tag.

We ate artichokes at a wedding in February 2020 (just before lockdown in South Africa). The caterer is certified Kosher, Cape Town. Just saying.

Anyway, back to Carciofi alla giudìa: We found the dish on the menu at a number of restaurants in Rome- not in the so-called Jewish quarter- which people still call The Ghetto. The dish is found in the Jewish quarter but we were determined to find them as we strolled through the city. The first Carciofi alla giudìa, that we had was disappointing – stringy and rubbery. The 2nd was interesting- moist and crunchy. I dipped my leaves into balsamic vinegar but you are supposed to eat neat as prepared -olive oil, lemon juice, coarse salt (Kosher Salt as the Americans say. All salt is kosher, by the way. Coarse salt is used to kasher -kosher meat- so that is why it is often generically referred to as Kosher Salt).

 I cannot say that I found Carciofi alla giudìa to be a culinary wow but it is the experience of sitting in Rome, in a square, savouring each artichokes crispy leaf; sipping on Aperol Spritz and appreciating the moment of locating this heritage dish. For me it is about the history of the Roman Jewish community. It is about reflecting on the fact that the community is remnant of what it was. Jews were sent off and exterminated by the Nazis. I munched on my Carciofi alla giudìa and pondered all of that.

Regarding artichokes for home dining, we soak the artichoke heads for hours in salt water to get out the goggas and grit. Then we boil them for at least an hour. We dip the cooked artichoke – leaf by leaf in a mixture of butter, lemon and salt. Scrape and eat the moist fleshly yumminess off each leaf. I add red wine vinegar, made in a barrel by our #Italianfriend but hubby stays with the classic version. We have not tried to prepare them Carciofi alla giudìa style. That we will leave for dining in Rome.

Photo credit: © 2019, TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen