From late February to early May, Roman markets abound with crates of small, green-and-purple-tinged artichokes. Chefs transform these beauties—trimming, flattening, seasoning, and deep-frying—into glistening golden flowers known as carciofi alla Giudia.
All over the Eternal City, diners indulge in this specialty, sighing over its crispy petals and nutty, savory flavor. Carciofi alla Giudia (“Jewish-style artichokes”) were created in Rome’s Jewish ghetto, which existed, under papal decree, from 1555 to 1870. The ghetto was a walled and gated seven-acre plot of low land, often flooded by the nearby Tiber river, where Jews were forced to live in crowded conditions.
Despite poverty and oppression, a rich culture developed within the ghetto walls, including a style of cooking called Cucina Ebraica-Romanesco. Since Kosher laws ruled that meat could not be combined with dairy, Jews eliminated butter and embraced the practice of frying in oil. And with all those artichokes growing nearby, carciofi alla Giudia became the Jewish ghetto’s signature dish.
The former ghetto is now one of Rome’s most enchanting historic centers, featuring the ancient Portico of Octavia, Bernini’s Renaissance Turtle Fountain, and lots of eateries. In spring, restaurants are decorated with baskets and bouquets of artichokes. Carciofi alla Giudia, following a centuries-old tradition, are proudly served.
Need to Know
Though the former Jewish ghetto is the most famous location for carciofi alla giudia, the specialty is also added to menus of Roman restaurants outside the area during the spring. In the off season, some restaurants continue to serve carciofi, using imported artichokes, which aren’t as delicious.
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Where to Try It
Hostaria da GiggettoVia del Portico d'Ottavia, 21/a, Roma, 00186, Italy
A favorite for carciofi alla giudia since 1923 in the former Jewish ghetto. Be sure to reserve an outside table. Closed Mondays.
Daniela’s Cooking SchoolVia delle Terme Deciane, 10/a, Roma, 00153, Italy
Chef Daniela del Balzo offers classes that include a market visit, then cooking class and lunch at her home on the Aventine Hill. In season, you can learn artichoke-cooking firsthand from this master. (danielascookingschool.com)