Pan-fried artichoke bases – fondi di carciofo al tegame

Throughout markets in Venice, you see tubs of water containing strange floating pale green discs and lemon halves, which at first glance, may be a bit baffling. These are artichoke bases, the sweet flesh that sits under the hairy choke, which when cooked until tender, make it easy work for the person eating, as the hard part of peeling off dozens of leaves to get to the central prize has been done for you. This is also a great way to use older artichokes – ones that that may be large, with leathery leaves that are just starting to open, and not as suitable for stuffing. I have wonderful memories of buying the discs at the Rialto Market, or one of the road (read – canal) side markets, and taking them back to my apartment and cooking them.

cutting artichokes in venice-italy on my mind

The Venetians have a really quick way to get to the base/bottom (or in Italian fondo) as you can see from this video. I tend to not be as brutal, as I leave a bit more of the head (where the pointy parts of the leaves are), then I scoop out the hairy choke. This makes the disc a bit thicker, less of an even shape – and you will see that I am nowhere near as proficient as cutting them as the Venetians are – but they are just as delicious albeit slightly mis-shapen (read “rustic looking”). And they have a central well that contains the pan juices after cooking very nicely.  Vendors usually sell the “fondi” to you with a couple of parsley stalks, which come in handy during cooking. They are eaten as an appetiser (or cicheti), or a light primo, accompanied by a glass of dry white  Soave.

artichokes-cut-italy on my mind

cutting through artichoke bottoms-italy on my mind

Learning to cut artichokes is a bit of an art – just remember to have a bowl of acidulated water next to you and rub the cut parts with a lemon half so they discolour less. The lemon does not impart any flavour but artichokes look a lot prettier when less discoloured. Buy more artichokes than you need (if you have never cooked with whole ones), then experiment. Make sure you have a sharp knife (and maybe thick gloves – see the left thumb covered of the market-worker above) as they can be quite tough to cut. And eventually you will peel back the layers and have little saucers prepared, that will bob up and down in your bowl of lemony water. And when you cook them, with garlic, olive oil and white wine, the way I do, you will realise that they are buttery, savoury and very delicious; maybe they will also remind you of Venice.

fondi di carciofo-artichoke bases-polenta bianca-italy on my mind

pan-fried artichoke bases (fondi di carciofo in tegame)

4 large artichokes (assume 1-2 artichokes per person)
1 lemon, halved
a good splash of extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and bruised
1/3 – 1/2 cup dry white wine
tablespoon parsley leaves, chopped
salt and papper to taste

Have a large bowl of water to one side, add the lemon halves and squeeze a bit of juice in the water. Leave the lemon halves in the water.

To clean the artichokes, remove the stem and sides with a sharp knife, then cut off most of the head with the leaves. See this video for how to cut the disc clean; I however tend to leave more of the leaves, then clean out the choke with a spoon so that the base becomes a saucer. Make sure you rub the artichoke bases well with a lemon half and then drop them in the water. Repeat with all the artichokes. If you have any stems, keep the 5 or so centimetres closest to the artichoke and then peel the tough outer skin, rub the cut part of the stem with lemon and pop those in the bowl of water as well.

Heat a frypan that will comfortably fit all the artichokes bases (and stems if you have any) on medium heat with a good splash of EVOO, then drop in the whole bruised garlic clove. When the garlic becomes fragrant, pop the bases (and stems if you have any) into the pan. Pan fry at medium heat until the artichokes warm through, then turn the heat up and add the white wine. Allow the wine to evaporate, then lower the heat, cover and cook, turning the bases (and stems) over halfway, for about 20 minutes (depending on size), adding salt and pepper to taste. They are ready when fork-tender and there should be quite a few pan juices left. Discard the garlic. Serve warm, scattered wth chopped parsley leaves and serve with soft white polenta if you like.

carciofi-artichokes-italy on my mind

14 Comments

  • Jo O'Mara says:

    We were in Rome in artichoke season, and the little restaurants would fry fried them quickly and serve them with a bowl of water to wash your hands in. They were delicious. They were an entree, but I ordered them for main as well!

  • pblevitt says:

    Living in artichoke country, I am blessed to have an abundant crop available. Oh, how I wish they were cleaned and ready to take home as in the Italian markets. Your recipe and instructions typify the simplicity of Italian cuisine, featuring the distinct flavors of the ingredients.

    • I know what you mean about finding cleaned ones – wouldn’t that be fabulous! That is exactly why I love Italian cuisine – so few but excellent quality ingredients. Enjoy your artichokes

  • ciaochowlinda says:

    Oh how I adore artichokes. I never ate them with polenta, but it’s a great idea

  • paninigirl says:

    I love artichokes but frequently shy away from them because of the work. I guess I should just move to Italy so I can get them already cleaned at the market!

    • Haha yes! They sell them trimmed in all sorts of ways there – I guess it is because they produce so many of them, it encourages people to buy them – otherwise they wouldn’t sell them

  • Cori says:

    We have a plentiful supply of artichokes in our vege garden at the moment – love the taste, the work in preparing them is considerable. Love the tiny ones with toughest outer leaves removed, cut in half and roasted in our olive oil. Do make the effort to use the large ones in a similar way to the one you describe – and the ones that get away from us (we’re weekend hobby farmers) make stunning cut flowers.

    • Hi Cori, as you say there are so many uses for the different sizes/stages of maturity. I love the tiny ones too as they are so much easier to prepare. And the flowers in the vase are gorgeous! Hope you enjoy your artichokes this season

  • David says:

    We bought these almost every day we were in Venice! The greengrocer taught us version similar to yours, but we also made them with the most wonderful homemade saffron mayonnaise. Whenever I’m at the market in Tucson, I dream that someday one of the vendors will suddenly carry fondi di carciofo. Or, I could put on my “big boy pants” and treating them like you did! 😉

    • That saffron mayonnaise sounds fabulous! And I also dream that anyone anywhere in Australia will prepare artichokes in any way for purchase – I think I will always be dreaming though

  • Grazia says:

    Ciao Paola! Stamattina bazzicando tra i blog e siti australiani che parlano di food sto scoprendo un mondo molto legato all’Italia e la cosa mi riempie di orgoglio e felicità. Ti lascio con estremo piacere un saluto e un abbraccio con la promessa che tornerò presto a trovarti sul sito.
    Saluti da Grazia e dall’Italia.
    http://idolcidigrazia.blogspot.it

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