Artichokes + Ghettos in Rome

When In Rome

When we went to Italy last year, half the fun was researching what food we could expect to discover, and one ingredient that quickly rose to the top of the list was artichokes.  They were everywhere, especially in Rome, where they distinguished Jewish style as opposed to, I guess, Roman style.  It made no difference, it was all tasty.  This time of the year, being the height of artichoke season, here in California (previous post on Castroville, and California artichokes), where you can get a trio of beautiful artichokes for a $1, I thought it was time I break out those tasty recipes I tried.

The Jewish Ghetto of Rome

edge of the quarter

First a bit about the name ghetto, which for many has a bad connotation.  A ghetto is historically a part of the city where minority groups cluster together, be it by social, economic or perhaps legal pressure.  The term ghetto was first used in Venice to describe an area where Jews were compelled to live. The word comes from“gheto” or “ghet” which means slag in Venetian and refers to the a foundry where slag was stored on the island of that original Jewish settlement.  The second part of the workd stems from borghetto, a diminutive of borgo “borough”.  The word took on a new and sinister meaning when the Germans adopted the word to refer to confinement of Jews prior to the transportation to concentration camps during the holocaust.

Eating locally

Jewish Cuisine

Before the birth of Christ, there were Jews in Rome, so that’s 2,000 years of a presence in this ancient city, having arrived here after the Romans invaded Judea in 63 BC.  Their numbers gradually increased as Jewish merchants came to trade and ended up settling; many from Sicily and Sardinia.   When Ferdinand of Spain expelled them from these regions in 1492 they headed north and took with them their foods and cultures influenced by foreign settlers such as the Arabs, Normans, Aragonese.    Many dishes labeled “alla giudia” are not of Roman origins but rather arrived with the Jews from Sicily, Puglia, Basillicata and Naples.

chef knows best

The original location of the ghetto was near the Ponte Fabricio (Fabicio Bridge) and there craftsmen and merchants flourished until the middle 16th century when Pope Paul IV created a ghetto near the Teatro di Marcello and Jews were forbidden to move freely outside this area, to the extent that the gates were locked at night.  It was only in 1870 that the ghetto was dissolved along with the Pope’s power by the new Italian state.

During that time, Jewish housewives were forced to be creative with limited resources and the need to keep the recipes kosher.  Artichokes, cheese, salted cod were cheap and readily available, and so variation upon variation was turned out.  Artichokes were not a local ingredient having been brought by the Arabs to Italy via Sicily.

Today, many Jewish families still live around here, and this area is known for its Kosher cusine which follows the following strict precepts:

  • No flesh of animals that are not ruminants can be consumed, so no pig or rabbits
  • No fish that has neither fins or scales, so no mollusks
  • Animals must be slaughtered using a traditional method that inflicts as little pain as possible, and they must be bled dry before consumption

Source:  Culinaira – Italy, Tandem Verlag GmbH 2007

Every ghetto had its own foods and traditions that result as much from the wealth of the occupants as the foreigners who joined the community.  The ghetto of Rome was among the poorest in Italy; they were “excluded from most professions except money-lending, dealing in old clothes and bric-a-brac, and selling food in the street.  Many of them became friggitori-street vendors of deep-frying morsels, mainly of fish and vegetables for which they became famous.”  (source: Claudia Roden in The Dishes of the Jews of Italy:  A Historical Survey)


The Beauties in their Glory

Carciofi alla Giudia (Jewish-Style Artichokes)

Recipe adapted from Chow

Makes: 4 to 6 servings

1 lemon, sliced in half
4 artichokes regular or baby
½ cup flour
4 c vegetable oil


1. Squeeze the juice from 1 of the lemon halves into a large, nonreactive bowl and fill the bowl halfway with water; set aside. Cut the remaining lemon half into 4 wedges; set aside.

2. Trim the leafy top third of the artichoke. Pull off the dark outer leaves to reveal the tender yellow inner leaves. Trim the stem bottom.

3. Cut around the outside of the artichoke with a paring knife to remove the remaining tough leaf base. Using a vegetable peeler or a paring knife, shave the dark green skin from the stem, smoothing the edges where the leaves were attached.

4. Cut the artichoke in half lengthwise through the leaves and stem. Using a small spoon, gently scoop out the tough purple choke and the fuzz found between the leaves and stem; discard.

5. Cut each artichoke half in half again lengthwise and place in the reserved lemon water. Repeat with the remaining artichokes.

6. Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of generously salted water to a boil. Prepare a large bowl filled halfway with ice and water; set aside. Remove the artichoke quarters from the lemon water, drop them into the boiling water, and cook until just tender, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Drain and transfer to the prepared ice water bath until cool. Drain again and pat dry between towels (the drier the better).

7. Place the flour in a medium bowl; set aside. Line another medium bowl with a paper towel; set aside.

8. In a medium pot (an be the same one used to boil the artichokes, just make sure it is completely dry) add the oil, and set over high heat until the oil temperature reaches 350°F. Toss half of the artichoke pieces in the bowl of flour, shake off any excess, and, using a slotted spoon, slowly lower them into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown, about 1½ to 2 minutes. Using the slotted spoon, transfer the artichokes to the paper-towel-lined bowl, generously sprinkle with salt, and toss to coat. Repeat. Serve immediately with the reserved lemon wedges.


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35 comments for “Artichokes + Ghettos in Rome

  1. May 29, 2011 at 11:21 PM

    what can I say ?!!
    I love artichokes
    I love Rome !!
    Pierre de Paris
    pierre recently posted..Carpaccio de lieu jaune façon Impressionnistes

  2. May 30, 2011 at 1:59 AM

    this is my first time to post on your blog, I am about to seasrch for artichokes recipe and I landed on this website. I love the place and the picture
    free nutritional information

  3. May 30, 2011 at 9:01 AM

    I like artichokes but am still intimidated to make them at home. Not sure what I’m waiting for…
    Andrea@WellnessNotes recently posted..Weekend Fun- Snow- Perfect Food- and a New Swimsuit

  4. May 30, 2011 at 10:04 PM

    Your trip to Rome sounds incredibly educational. My goodness, I’d never have kept all these details in place a year later.

    I had no idea about the origin of “ghetto” but I was aware of the Jews in Rome in the Roman period preceding Christ. I understand from some PBS show or maybe History Channel, that they were horrible oppressed in the first century and later still, as you’ve written. Terrible.

    About batter fried artichokes, what a great idea. Too bad they’re only in season now. This could be a great year-round treat. Have you been to the artichoke festival that they hold near Santa Cruz? We’ve wondered about it for ages. It must be coming up soon if it hasn’t happened already.

  5. May 31, 2011 at 12:17 PM

    Oh I so need to prepare and eat artichokes. I haven’t reached the mature palate stage where I get them a 100%…like I don’t quite get lobster but am hoping to change that soon. I like the idea of battered artichoke!
    Kitchen Butterfly recently posted..Asparagus and Aioli Fried Pizza

  6. OysterCulture
    June 1, 2011 at 7:00 AM

    Pierre – I’m with you!

    Raquel – thanks for stopping by

    Andrea – I was like you the first time, but believe me the results are worth it.

    Stevie – Its hard to believe it was last year, seems like yesterday. I have not made it to the festival, but have been to Castroville where it is located the week before, and had many an artichoke – I went more into the history of the artichoke in the post I liked to in this one. I love driving down to SC and stopping at the market stalls and getting the artichokes they fry up there. So delicious!

    KB – Some things just take time, do not rush them, but you will be very satisfied when you reach the “happy palate” stage =)

  7. June 1, 2011 at 8:09 AM

    While i knew the meaning of the word ghetto, I never knew it was first used in Venice. Artichoke season in SF makes me think of driving through Watsonville. Delightful story and recipe.
    Anneliesz recently posted..Recipe Box- Cheddar &amp Chopped Turkey Kolaches and a Roadtrip to West

  8. June 1, 2011 at 9:11 AM

    It is really a joy to see you write about this today because it brings up my memories of walking through the Jewish ghetto. We tried to find the purple artichokes here earlier in the year to make the Jewish and Roman versions of them, but no luck. Great photos!
    The Duo Dishes-Chrystal recently posted..The Duo’s Ethnic Exploration- Guyanese

  9. June 1, 2011 at 1:37 PM

    What an interesting way to prepare artichokes…I’ve been cooking artichokes but only in water with lemon, garlic and basil leaves. Will have to try your recipe sometime. Oh! Like the pictures 🙂

  10. June 1, 2011 at 4:28 PM

    ooh a colleague of mine just came back from Rome. I’m going to have to ask her about the Jewish ghettos. Hope she doesn’t take it the wrong way. :-p

  11. June 1, 2011 at 7:14 PM

    Certainly this would be a must visit area for us in Rome when we go. The artichokes sound really tasty!

  12. June 2, 2011 at 5:56 AM

    My Sicilian grandmother made the very best artichokes, EVER! I only wish I knew how to prepare them like her. However, that recipe sounds pretty enticing too.

    GREAT post Oyster with fabulous info and pics!!!

    Once again I’ve been enlightened:) Thank you so much for sharing…
    Louise recently posted..Tis June

  13. June 2, 2011 at 8:37 PM

    I grew up very close with a friend- very kosher – and no idea about the rabbit. Fascinating how culture and politics play a role in recipes.
    Claudia recently posted..A Blueberry Muffin Detour

  14. June 3, 2011 at 6:03 AM

    Adore artichokes and a Rome,and this takes the mystery out of these complicated veggies. Thank you for the wonderful images of Rome!
    Jennifer Eremeeva recently posted..The F Words- More from the Expat Lexicon

  15. June 4, 2011 at 11:18 AM

    I am jealous of your cheap and abundant artichokes in California! And also hungry now that your post has reminded me of the delicious artichokes we had in Rome last year too. 🙂
    Brenda – Aesthetic Dalliances recently posted..Life is so random

  16. June 4, 2011 at 11:49 PM

    Hi There, What a lovely post and recipe! I’m a fan of artichokes and this recipe sounds absolutely mouth-watery 🙂

    Great shots!

    Have a great day,

    Aldy recently posted..Lemony Custard with Pears- Blueberries and Fresh Mint Leaves And My Grandmothers Gift of Herbs

  17. June 6, 2011 at 3:02 AM

    I have never prepared fresh artichokes myself..thank you for sharing the recipe. I hope I would gather enough courage and get myself fresh artichokes…
    Angie@Angiesrecipes recently posted..Chocolate Wafers

  18. June 6, 2011 at 10:12 AM

    I remember visiting the Jewish ghetto area in Venice many years ago. It was behind a massive wall, too. And the water around it was often stagnant because it was almost always at low tide. It was interesting to explore that part of history. And it made me even more grateful that we’ve become more of a melting pot now, well, at least in most parts of the world.
    Carolyn Jung recently posted..Wines to Take Along Anywhere

  19. June 6, 2011 at 11:27 AM

    A very interesting quarter in Rome. Thanks for sharing.

    That recipe sounds wonderful! I love Jewish recipes.



  20. June 6, 2011 at 7:16 PM

    I have always loved artichokes and we prepare them often. Love this recipe and will want to try it out 🙂
    Magic of Spice recently posted..Whats for Lunch – Blue Grilled Cheese with Black Forest Bacon

  21. June 6, 2011 at 8:17 PM

    I love artichoke and love to saute them with anchovies. I have never fried them but can guarantee that I’d love them. Great writing as usual.
    tammy recently posted..Agrigirl Meets Agri-ecologist

  22. June 7, 2011 at 12:05 PM

    Always so interesting and informative! Def using this methid the next time I make artichokes and since I’ll be driving thru Watsonville/Castro Valley to Santa Cruz tmro, might be this wknd! Thx for the history and evocative photos of Rome.

  23. June 8, 2011 at 3:40 AM

    I have just started cooking artichokes lately, love eating with aioli. Your post is very informative, i don’t know much about jewish.
    janet@gourmet traveller 88 recently posted..Chinese Shredded Chicken &amp Mung Bean Sheets Salad 涼拌雞絲粉皮

  24. June 8, 2011 at 6:35 PM

    First, I’m extremely jealous that you can get artichokes three for a dollar! The history of Jews in Italy is so interesting. I’ve been learning about Jewish history in France from Joan Nathan’s latest book.
    lisaiscooking recently posted..Beet and Quinoa Salad with Pecan-Crusted Goat Cheese

  25. June 9, 2011 at 6:42 AM

    Funny because my son is in Rome this week and we told him that he must eat at Piperno in the Jewish ghetto area of the city. I love your write up and am taking notes for my own future trip back to this beautiful, fascinating city. And I will definitely be trying your Carciofi alla Giudia.

  26. June 10, 2011 at 2:26 PM

    Never had an artichoke maybe one day I’ll be lucky to taste one and go to Rome

  27. June 11, 2011 at 4:35 PM

    Jewish cuisine in Rome very interesting! You’ve had a great experience in Italy 🙂

    Mmm I’ll need to taste these artichokes’recipe, simple and I bet delicious.

    Have a great weekend!

    Gera@Sweets Foods Blog recently posted..Five Mid-Morning Snacks

  28. kms
    June 11, 2011 at 7:19 PM

    love this. artichokes or rome…i can’t decide which i love more!

  29. June 13, 2011 at 1:39 AM

    Artichoke is in its season here too! I knew the health benefits of it, but never heard of their relation to Jews. And thank you for informing about the origin of the word ghetto. I just knew that it is a part of the city where the poor live.
    And I will definitely try this Jewish recipe.

  30. June 17, 2011 at 6:34 PM

    I wish artichokes were more available in our area. I really don’t have much experience at all with the fresh variety. We had a plant last year, but the heat killed it. Once again I guess I’ll just have to experience the real thing. Fine by me!
    Lori recently posted..Citrus Jicama Salad

  31. June 18, 2011 at 6:08 AM

    one more detail about origin of the name: in Italian the word “getto” (in Venetian dialect gèto or gèt) is pronounced with a G like in George. Jewish of German origins pronounced it in a guttural way, with G like in Great, so the word became “ghetto” (In Italian GH sounds like G in Great). Getto literally means casting and the area was called like that because of the foundry.

    The Roman Ghetto was the last remaining one in Western Europe, it was abolished only in 1882!
    Cellar Tours recently posted..Michelin Stars in Ireland- Fine Dining Experiences

  32. OysterCulture
    June 19, 2011 at 6:28 AM

    Anneliesz – I love the history behind the words as well. Watsonville certainly has a lot of artichokes, but if you have never tried Castroville, you need to check it out.

    Duo – The Jewish Ghetto really was a special neighborhood, happy to oblige with bringing up good memories.

    Juliana – Artichokes are really incredibly versatile, I prepare them stuffed a lot which is fun to eat. Many of the farmers stalls around here also serve them fried. It is such a treat.

    Sophia – Ask away, I am sure she will be happy to share. =)

    5 Star – Cannot imagine you missing that section. Enjoy.

    Louise – an thanks! I’m always on the hunt for wonderful artichoke recipes. any inclination to share?

    Claudia – I agree its fascinating how culture and religion have such a profound influence on food.

    Jennifer – thank you much , my pleasure.

    Brenda – No need to be jealous, just come for a visit. I’d love to show you some of my favorite artichoke spots. =)

    Aldy, why thank you, glad you liked it.

    Angie – Artichokes certainly look daunting at first, but they’re really very easy. Plus a lot of fun.

    Carolyn – I agree, its amazing to see the source. The Venice ghetto had a haunting quality to it.

    Rosa – Fantastic

    MoS – I bet you make some tremendous recipes, the ones you post are so inspirational.

    Tammy – Great idea, I’ve added anchovies to the stuffing but never sauted them together.

    Priscilla – I hope you had a wonderful time, the bounty of that part of California is a amazing. Of course I hope you scored some good artichokes too.

    Janet – Glad to broaden your horizons, until I decide to search out some details about what I saw, it was new to me as well.

    Lisa – Another of my favorite authors. I also really enjoy Joyce Goldstein.

    Jamie – How funny, and how’s that for timing. Have a great time in Rome, I’m a bit jealous you have that to look forward to.

    Wizzy – If I thought it would work, I”d send you an artichoke care package, but they are much better experienced close to the source. Fingers crossed this happens soon for you.

    Gera – Always best to taste artichokes close to home, and indeed the Roman experience was very good!

    KMS – I know I could not pick

    Zerrin – My pleasure and only fitting as I am always learning something from you.

    Lori – You’ll just need to sample them when you are in Europe, maybe a quick detour from Ireland? =)

    Semona – Perfect, thanks for the added details. This is great.

  33. June 20, 2011 at 10:03 AM

    I did visit the Jewish are when I visited Rome last Christmas. Love the pan-fried artichoke recipes.
    Jackie recently posted..Watermelon Panzanella Recipe Summer Salad

  34. massimo
    June 26, 2011 at 1:07 PM

    I am roman of birth albeit I am not Jew. The word ghetto is still used in Rome, but it does not have the negative connutation that it seem to have here, it is simply another area of Rome which has a predominatly Jews population. It is in fact rather elegant. The artichoke (carciofo) described in the recipe sounds delicious but is somewhat of a half way between the Roman style (cooked in wather and oil with a filling of garlic and mint) and the Jew (giudea) style fried in oil. Whatever the recipe is, I wish I could get artichokes here in the Boston area that are less than a century old and 3 for 1$? Great for you. One more thing, artichokes are actually flowers, the only ones allowed to be cooked for the great roman recipes are the “cimaroli” top flowers that contain no choke and must be of the purple species… but good luck in getting those here.

  35. OysterCulture
    June 26, 2011 at 2:16 PM

    Jackie, just a very good reason to go back!

    Massimo, that was my sense, that ghetto was more matter of fact and not derogatory. I did knot know that they had to be the top flower, very interesting indeed. Thank you for information.

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