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carciofi salentini: salentine artichokes

If you take the train from Roma to Lecce, just about everything you see the second half of the trip will be the gray-green shaggy plants that flash on the  other side of the train window. Field after field after field. For hours. And in fact, here in the Salento come late January each year, we find artichokes everywhere: the markets, sold in intersections from the backs of trucks, but no where more so that at the table, already prepared.

If you don’t know how to do that, well, here’s how:

Artichokes rust very quickly, so pour yourself a pot of tea or open  a bottle of wine and then toss a few cut lemons into your largest bowl of water.


From the point, you cut the artichoke about half way up, right in half. Then you start to peel away all the course leaves. Once you arrive at the softer leaves, you can clean it up with a knife, rounding any rough edges. Then you place that in the lemon water. They actual technique is easy. It’s staying entertained that’s the trick.

A good gossipy friend is the best, but if she has to work, consider Italian radio and ‘French Breakfast tea’ your companions.

Avoid artichokes as dinner party food, which means that you the cook will be peeling for the better part of the morning. Your fingers will turn black too and stay that way for a few days.

Like most vegetables in Italy, these are going to be cooked well-done, which will give us a little bit of room should we leave too much fibery leaves.

You can add water to steam them but everyone I know just splashes some from the big bowl of water. Place in big pot, add a glug of oil and a little pennyroyal after ten minutes or so. You can use any mint (menta) but pennyroyal (mentuccia) is one of those flavours very much appreciated inside of Italy, virtually unknown, outside.

Once they are soft (today’s took about 15 minute but time of harvest and time after harvest both are factors in figuring cooking time) toss with some raw oil and more pennyroyal. If you’re anything like me, you’ll leave a mess out in the garden for a few days. And you might even live on these for a few days, putting the copper pot right into the refrigerator.

I try to remind myself on mornings like these that not all the best dishes have ‘elbow grease’ on the list of ingredients. That some dishes are good AND simple, good AND fast.

Today though as I trimmed, it occurred to me that ‘appreciation’ and ‘anticipation’ are also ingredients in the recipe, as real as oil or salt.

And that you don’t plant field after field after field of them unless you have a favourite knife. And a favourite big bowl. And a little time to make a meal. Like all of us, I like to think that my little part of the world is special. And that food preparation here is not considered time-wasted.

And that’s what artichokes mean to me, a dish with reflection built right in. And that’s usually what goes through my mind, as the gray-green shaggy leaves flash by on the other side of the window, the train continuing on down the track, headed for someplace very special.


Silvestro Silvestori
Sommelier / Owner / Director of The Awaiting Table Cookery School, Lecce, Italy

Silvestro Silvestori, the owner, founder and director of The Awaiting Table Cookery School, Lecce, Italy has been teaching the food and wine of Puglia and particular- Italy’s Salentine peninsula since 2003. In addition to his knowledge of Pugliese food and culture, Silvestro is a nationally-certified sommelier in Italy, and a staff writer for Wine & Spirits magazine, covering all their Southern Italian food and wine content. He has also appeared on American, Australian, Belgian, British, Chinese, Dutch and Italian television, and Italy’s most respected newspaper called him, ‘A national treasure’, and ‘THE anthropologist of the traditional cuisine of the Salento’ for his work in preservation and promotion of Salentine’s food and wine.


  • Dean
    February 18, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    This story on artichokes brings me back to our week at the cooking school. I have you on HD video showing us how to shave down an artichoke. I just purchased 2 Barbaresco to put away for a few years. What can you tell me about this wine? What is consider better Barolo?

  • Yadsia @ShopCookMake
    February 20, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    Those artichokes look perfect!

  • Lizzy (Good Things)
    February 28, 2012 at 8:27 am

    I love the vibrancy of your photographs. You are a cook after my own heart. I adore fresh produce. So pleased I found your blog, thank you for following me on Twitter!

  • Giulia
    March 12, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    Ciao!It’s me again. My grandma makes them under vinegar with mint (and oil too obviously) and she sends them wherever I live around Europe to make me happy and less nostalgic 🙂

  • ciaochowlinda
    March 17, 2012 at 9:40 am

    Oh how gorgeous are those artichokes. And you are so adept at trimming them. I love the shot with all the trimmings scattered around the ground. OK, now I’m off to buy some artichokes.

  • Jen @ The Scrumptious Pumpkin
    March 30, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    So glad to have found your blog on StumbleUpon – your photos are just gorgeous!

  • Michael Q (@Epicuranoid)
    May 31, 2012 at 10:53 am

    Read this a while ago and enjoyed it, but I came back with a bag of chokes today. Enjoy the prose as much as the technique. Very well done!

  • Rachael {SimplyFreshCooking}
    August 23, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    What an informative post and an all around great site!

  • Katja
    August 29, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Gorgeous photos and writing both. I love the way you talk about food – it’s so matter-of-fact and yet there’s always a story attached. Fabulous.

  • Carmela
    December 10, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    Beautiful photography and delicious results. Carmela x

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