Exactly four years ago, I drove down Route 1 in California from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Of course I vividly remember the spectacular coastline of Big Sur, I remember an elephant seal sanctuary near Hearst Castle (male elephant seals make a colossal racket when they’re fighting for territory), and I remember a creepy motel in Carmel. But, oddly, one of my clearest memories is the fried artichokes sold at farmstands along the roadside. Warm, salty, comfortingly greasy in a paper sack and undoubtedly bad for you, deep-fried artichokes will forever make me think of California.
My romance with fried artichokes began the first time I ate carciofi alla giudia (literally, artichokes in the Jewish style), which are fried artichokes sold in Kosher restaurants in the old Jewish quarter of Rome. Roman-style fried artichokes are made differently and more simply than the fried artichokes I ate in California. There is no batter. Purists won’t even flour their artichokes, although I do because I think it adds texture and helps bind the seasoning to the artichokes.
These artichokes are a bit of a hybrid of the two, although they’ve got more in common with carciofi alla giudia, since they’re not made with a batter. I bought my artichokes at a farmer’s market in Seattle’s University District, where some Yakima farmers were selling baby artichokes. Young artichokes are wonderful for a dish like this. They’re so tender you can eat almost the whole thing, and the choke is still soft and green and doesn’t need to be trimmed. You can tear off all of the coarse outer leaves, or you can leave some of them on for aesthetic reasons, as I did (they fan out from the artichokes as they fry and turn golden). Your guests won’t mind pulling them off – this is the quintessential finger food. I just served my fried artichokes with lemon wedges (they were so fresh and delicious they didn’t need more) but if you want you can make an aioli for dipping.
You don’t need a deep-fryer for this recipe, but long tongs, such as barbeque tongs, are useful if you’re not using a deep-fryer.
450 grams ( about 1 pound) baby artichokes (untrimmed weight)
10 grams (about a tablespoon) salt
50 grams (about 1/2 cup) cake flour or Tipo 00 flour (Italian finely milled flour, for pasta making)
1-2 teaspoons (3-6 grams) black pepper, paprika, blackening seasoning, or other flavoring of your choice
Juice ½ lemon
Additional coarse salt
Additional lemon wedges
Approximately ½ liter of oil suitable for deep-frying, such as peanut, canola, or rice bran oil
Wash and drain the artichokes, and strip them of the coarse outer leaves around the base and stalk, leaving the softer leaves on. Using a paring knife or peeler, peel the stalks and trim to about two inches (five centimetres) below the base. Slice off the top ½ inch to 1 inch of the artichokes (about 1.5 to 2 centimeters), and cut each artichoke in half. Rub in juice of ½ lemon to keep from browning.
Combine the flour, salt, and seasoning in a bowl, and dredge each artichoke half thoroughly. In a deep-fryer or heavy pot (don’t use a deep pan, as I did – it may look pretty for photos, but the oil spits when the artichokes are added, creating a burn risk), pour oil to a depth of about two to three inches (five to eight centimetres), and heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius), or until, if you dip the tip of an artichoke in the pan, it starts to fizzle and bubble.
Place the artichokes carefully in the hot oil and fry for about five minutes on each side, turning once, or until they are golden brown and the leaves are crisp. Remove to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain. Sprinkle liberally with coarse salt, and serve warm, accompanied with lemon wedges and aioli, if desired.
Makes 4-6 servings.