As a Southerner, I consider deep-fried to be an enchanting phrase. I never met an artichoke, when I was growing up, except the kind that was marinated in a jar. Still, carciofi fritti (fried artichokes) seem like soul food.
For frying, the smallest, purple-tinged violetti or morellini are best. Tiny violetti, sliced raw and dressed, make an astringent crunchy salad, which exemplifies the Tuscan preference for bitter tastes.
For these fried beauties, remember that the stem is as tasty as the heart. Sometimes 4 or 5 inches long, the stems can be peeled with a vegetable peeler. Cut each artichoke in half, leaving the stem attached. If they’re small enough, fry them like this. If not, slice each in half again, paring off any choke. Be sure to remove all tough outer leaves.
Matching wine with artichokes is daunting, but we’ve tried fried artichokes with Friulano, formerly called Tocai, the darling of the province of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. The usual suggestion is a Gewürztraminer.
1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, and beer. Let it rest 20 minutes.
2. In a medium skillet, heat the oil to 350ºF.
3. Strip all tough outer leaves from the artichokes and cut away the top third. Trim off any sharp tips from the lower leaves. Halve or quarter the artichokes.
4. Dip the artichokes in the batter and then carefully slide them into the oil. Fry until crisp and browned, about 4 minutes, depending on size. Remove them to paper towels to drain, salt immediately, pile them on a board, and pass with wedges of lemon.
Makes 4 servings
1. Season all of the vegetables with salt and pepper. Briefly steam the peas. If not slender, cut the carrots into pieces about the same size as the asparagus stems. Cook the carrots until barely done. Break the asparagus stalks just where they naturally snap and steam or roast them. The vegetables should remain crisp.
2. In a large saucepan, heat the stock and wine to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer. In a heavy 6-quart pot, sauté the rice and onion in the olive oil for a couple of minutes over medium heat, stirring to coat and brown the rice. Add 1 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper and gradually ladle in the stock (about 1 to 2 ladles at a time) as the rice absorbs the liquid. Keep stirring and ladling in more liquid until the rice is done, about 20 minutes. Some prefer their risotto almost soupy, but for this dish it is better moist and almost al dente.
3. Remove from the heat, add the zest and lemon juice, stir in the cheese, and season to taste. Serve the rice immediately in large shallow bowls with the vegetables surrounding the rice.
Makes 6 servings
Recipes reprinted from the book The Tuscan Sun Cookbook, by Frances Mayes and Edward Mayes. Copyright 2012 by Frances Mayes and Edward Mayes. Photographs copyright 2012 by Steven Rothfeld. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House Inc.