Sephardic Recipes With A Modern Twist

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Carciofi: A Taste of Rome

Carciofi: A Taste of Rome

A trip to Bella Roma will always be memorable. Magnificent art, awesome architecture, ancient ruins, fabulous fashion, mouthwatering food and breathtaking natural beauty. Any trip to Rome requires a visit to the Roman Ghetto. A hidden jewel bordered by the Tiber River and the Piazza Venezia, the Ghetto features amazing kosher ristorantes, old style bakeries, delicatessens and, of course, gelaterias. 

The Roman Jewish community is one of the oldest of the diaspora, with roots reaching back to 200 BCE. They were allured by the opportunity and excitement of the budding capital of the Roman Empire. There were even political accords between the Romans and the Kingdom of Judea. However after the Jewish Rebellion and the plunder and destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, Jews were brought to Rome as slaves. The great Colosseum was built with their labor and with money brought back from Judea.

Following the example of the Venice Ghetto (built in 1516), the antisemitic Pope Paul IV ordered the construction of the Roman Ghetto in 1555. He revoked all rights that had been granted to Roman Jews, including the ownership of real estate. All Jews had to reside within the ghetto walls and were only allowed to be employed in the rag trade and money lending. After centuries of hardship, the Jews of Rome became equal citizens after the reunification of Italy in 1870. Soon after the community commissioned the magnificent Tempio Maggiore di Roma (Great Synagogue).

—Sharon

One of the most famous restaurants in the Ghetto is called Piperno, known for their amazing carciofi alla giudia (fried baby artichokes prepared in the classic Roman Jewish manner).

Interestingly, the word “Jewish” in the name is the same word used to refer to “Jewish” (pronounced “gudió” for masculine; “gudía” for feminine) in Ladino, the Sephardic language of the Jews of the Iberian Peninsula which was influenced by Italian as well.

The Carciofi alla guidia at Piperno’s is divine. And it is so iconic that it is actually featured in The Order, the latest installment in the Gabriel Allon spy series by author Daniel Silva. 

The Carciofi alla guidia at Piperno’s is divine. And it is so iconic that it is actually featured in The Order, the latest installment in the Gabriel Allon spy series by author Daniel Silva. 

Summer in Rome is always hot. But the summer that we took our daughter Rebekah to Italy, there was a major heat wave. On the hottest day of our visit, we did the Jewish tour of the Vatican with our good friends Abe and Nicole Mathalon and their four children. 

Later that night, we met them at Piperno’s. We dined al fresco (in a parking lot adjacent to the restaurant) and as the night went on, the waiters kept adding more and more tables and chairs. We ordered the famous Roman artichokes and waited patiently for our meal to arrive. Well, those fried artichokes blew us away. Served with a simple garlic aioli, they were just delectable—crispy, savory, nutty deliciousness. We devoured them in no time. We ordered more but no sharing this time! 

—Rachel

Photo by Alexandra Gomperts

Carciofi Recipe

12 baby artichokes
3 lemons
Oil for frying (olive oil is traditional,
we used avocado oil)
Kosher salt

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Place artichokes in a large bowl of water. Squeeze the juice from two lemons over the artichokes, then add the lemon rinds into the water. This will prevent artichokes from browning.
  • Remove the dark green spiky outer leaves from each artichoke, until it is a pale green bulb. Slice the leaves in half where the bulb starts at the top, leaving a spiral flower shape. Trim the fibrous pieces from the bottom of the stem.
  • Return each artichoke to the water until they have all been trimmed, then set aside.
  • In a large skillet, heat about two inches of oil over medium heat until it reaches 275°F. The oil should reach halfway up the artichoke.
  • Set up a wire cooling rack over a tray.
  • Fry the artichokes for about 10 minutes, flipping periodically, until a knife entered near the stem enters easily. The artichokes will be more poached than fried at this stage.
  • Remove the artichokes and heat the oil to 350°F.
  • When the artichokes are cool enough to handle, carefully spread the leaves outwards to create a flower shape. If using larger artichokes, remove the choke at this point.
  • Fry the artichokes for 3 to 4 more minutes until golden in color. Serve immediately with a generous sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of lemon.

Sharon Gomperts and Rachel Emquies Sheff have been friends since high school. The Sephardic Spice Girls project has grown from their collaboration on events for the Sephardic Educational Center in Jerusalem. Follow them on Instagram @sephardicspicegirls and on Facebook at Sephardic Spice SEC Food.

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