February is the month when, here in Liguria, the first artichokes appear on the stalls of the market. The most coveted, the best, are the artichokes of Albenga, better known as thorny violet artichokes of Albenga (carciofo violetto di Albenga). Their peculiarity? The leaves. Watercolor of dark green with purple shades and yellow thorns, are exceptionally tender, crunchy and sweet. This makes them perfect also to be eaten raw in salad (even the stem, I recommend!).
The artichokes of Albenga are an ancient local culture. They were renowned all over Europe already in the Renaissance, so much so that the famous French gastronome Parmantier in the middle of 1700 called them the “Genoese sugar”.
There is also another famous artichoke in Liguria, it is the Artichoke of Perinaldo, cultivated in the mountain territory of the village of Perinaldo (weat side of Liguria) and Slow Food Presidium of Liguria. It is an artichoke without thorns, tender and without beards inside, which is harvested in May. The production is so small that you can hardly find it fresh outside his native country. But, if you’re lucky you can find it in oil!
How we cook artichokes in Liguria?
First of all, stewed artichokes are a great filling for vegetable pies and in particular for the Pasqualina Pie (the Easter savory Pie), in its most elite version of Artichoke Pie
Speaking of Pasqualina pie, this year I will organize a live Masterclass (on Sunday evening) where I will teach all the tricks to prepare an auteur Pasqualina cake and impress relatives and friends at Easter. If you are interested and want to be among the first to know the date (places as usual are limited to make the course as interactive as possible) you can subscribe to the waiting list here
But back to us… The Genoese, then, love to accompany lamb with artichokes, this is also a dish of the Easter tradition. Moreover, artichoke sauce is very common to season pasta, in its white version with parsley and marjoram or with tomato sauce (the recipe will come soon).
The artichokes, finally, are also very good with eggs. And, in fact, a traditional way to cook them is in fricassee, i.e. stewed and tied before serving with a slightly sour beaten egg cream and lemon.
The other recipe, which I share today, is that of Genoese artichoke frittata. The peculiarity of this recipe is the presence, next to artichokes, of bread crumbs soaked in milk. A “trick” of cooking which increases the portions and decreases the overall cost of the dish (artichokes have always been a very expensive product) using bread, often stale. A great example of how the traditional Ligurian cuisine, the paesant and everyday cuisine, is also a sustainable cuisine.
How can we choose the best artichokes?
Before leaving you to the recipe, though, I have to make you a recommendation. When buying artichokes choose only the best one. You recognize them because they have the closed tip, they are hard and compact to the touch, the outer leaves are dark green, inside they have just little down, the stem is rigid and the leaves that depart from the stem are turgid.