Wine and Lemon Artichokes and A Day at The Roman Ghetto

"She can already go out."  Those were the sweetest words that I heard last week.  After a check-up of my daughter's chicken pox, her pediatrician proclaimed her noncontagious and free to join the general population again.  We can finally go out again as a whole family.  Two kids who had chicken pox one after the other confined us at home for almost a month.  And with the weather so wonderful, what is better than going out to take in the sun and celebrate with good food?  Our destination?  Il Ghetto di Roma (The Roman Ghetto).

This is the season when the artichokes are at their best.  They've been around since January coming out in trickles, but this week had seen the start of its  peak.  There are multitudes of artichokes lined up at the markets, trucks selling produce at the streets and the Ghetto was overflowing with them. 

The Ghetto is the Jewish Quarter of the city since 1555.  Originally, it had been a walled area with only three gates that were locked at night.  This was in accordance to the papal bull (decrees issued by the Vatican) promulgated by Pope Paul IV in 1555.  Along with the containment of the Jews in one area of Rome, heavy religious and economic restrictions were also placed on them in the Papal States. 

If you are not yawning yet of boredom, let me continue because it can get quite interesting.  If you are really that bored, skip this one and go straight to the recipe.   This information can be quite useful when you find yourself in Rome in the future.  The Ghetto is not among the major tourist hub of the city but I think it is worth hopping there at lunchtime while you are around.  Good history, good food, good sights, good prices.  Let's go!

Under the papal bull, the Jewish population, 2,000 at that time, were required to put on something yellow.  Males were required to wear pointed yellow hats whereas the females had to have yellow kerchiefs.   They were also prohibited to own properties and practice medicine among Christians.  They were only allowed to practice unskilled jobs.

Now let's speak about  Il Boccione, the Ghetto's old bakery.  When spoken about, almost no one refers to it with its real name.  Rather, it is more known as il forno del ghetto (the bakery of the ghetto).  It doesn't have a sign outside, the display windows only have a few burnt cakes to show, and the place is completely spartan.  One thing you will definitely notice is the perpetual long queues of people outside and the inviting smell of baked goodies.   The two pictures below are of the bakery, at Via Portico d' Ottavia, 1. 

Their bestsellers are the torta di ricotta e visciole (ricotta & amarena cake), crostata di pasta di mandorla e visciole (almond paste & amarena pie) and pizza da berride,  loaves of sweet cake completely packed with whole almonds, pine nuts, raisins and candied fruit.   The selection of cakes vary following the Jewish religious tradition.   The family members who run it are the only remaining heirs to the baking tradition that dates back to Medieval times. 

The Ghetto is packed with kosher restaurants as well as restaurants serving typical Roman food.  The Jewish Quarter has an unusually big concentration of restaurants that are considered and recognized as very good.  Around Rome, the good restaurants are scattered.  Check the stickers at the door.  They are the "badges" that the restaurants get from different culinary authorities that recognize them of having gastronomic importance when they merit one. 

When the artichokes are out, one thing you shouldn't miss is the carciofo alla giudia (Jewish artichoke).  My husband and I are not big fans of deep fried food but these artichokes are worth your 6 euros.  Yup, just one piece for 6 euros at Trattoria Giggetto, the Roman restaurant where we ate.  If you ask me, it's too expensive but take it as an experience.  It's one of the things that should be explored in the city.

Right next to our outdoor table at Trattoria Giggetto, the ancient Roman ruins start.   The restaurant is one of the few that serves Roman food (not kosher) in the area.  Don't be swept by its proximity to the ruins.  There are a lot of very good restaurants around to discover.  

Right after Trattoria Giggetto, you can find the steps going down to the ancient Roman ruins.  It's a nice walk that leads you to Teatro di Marcello.

Julius Caesar originally planned its construction but died in 44 BC, not seeing its conclusion.   Augustus inherited the project and named it after his favorite nephew Marcellus.  By 17 BC the theater was in use, and was formally inaugurated in 11 BC.

There, was it worth continuing to read?

This wine and lemon artichoke recipe was taught to me by my mother-in-law.  It's very simple yet so good.  It's a bit tart because of the lemon with a lingering taste of the white wine.  And the best thing is, the tastes don't go against the delicate flavor of the artichokes.  I cook artichokes in other ways but I always go back to this recipe. 

I hope you enjoyed this extra-long post and  hope you learned a thing or two.

Buon appetito!

Wine and Lemon Artichokes

Serves 2
  • 4 artichokes
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • salt & pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • handful of parsley, choppd finely
  • 1 lemon for cleaning the artichokes
  • 1-1/2 lemons for cooking
  1. Clean artichokes.  Artichokes can leave stains in the hands so it's best to work with a pair of disposable gloves.  
  2. Slice one lemon in half.  Squeeze the juice of half of the lemon in a bowl of water.  Put also the squeezed lemon in the bowl.  
  3. Take away outer leaves by tearing them from the base.  If the artichokes are fresh, they would snap easily.  
  4. Cut off the stem, leaving about 2 inches from the base.  
  5. Cut away middle-upper part with a knife.  
  6. Make the stems thinner by peeling the outer part from the bottom going towards the base of the artichoke.  
  7. Clean around the artichoke by paring the leaves that are sticking out.  
  8. Scoop out the fuzzy chokes at the center of the artichoke with the tip of the knife until you reach the tender part. You can also use a teaspoon to do this.  
  9. Rub the whole artichoke with remaining half lemon.  Then leave it in the bowl of lemon & water until you clean all the other artichokes.  For a step-by-step cleaning procedure with pictures, here's a site I found that's very useful.  
  10. Take half a lemon for cooking.  Make two thin round slices and cut them to little pieces with the rind on.  Set aside.  You won't be needing the rest of the half lemon. 
  11. Put cleaned artichokes in a tall saucepan with little oil (about 2 tablespoons) that you can cover when the artichokes are positioned vertically.  Let the artichokes sizzle for 2 minutes with 1 crushed garlic.  
  12. Add the water.  Season with salt & squeeze the juice of half lemon.  
  13. Cover and simmer for about half an hour or until artichokes are tender.  You can check them by pricking them with a fork or a knife.  If the water dries up and the artichokes are not tender yet, just add a little bit of water.  
  14. When the water has almost dried out and the artichokes are tender, uncover and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  
  15. When they start to sizzle, add the remaining garlic.  Move the artichokes in the pan to cover them with oil.  
  16. Season with salt, pepper, half of the chopped parsley & the remaining 1/2 lemon.  Mix in the small lemon slices with rind. 
  17. Put up the fire and pour white wine.  Let it evaporate.
  18. Adjust taste before turning off fire.  Add lemon or salt according to your taste.
  19. Sprinkle the remaining parsley and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil before serving.