The best food in Rome can be found in the Jewish Ghetto, Trastevere. In the summer months, Bruce and I flock to crowded outdoor trattorias, like Grazia & Graziella, for these crispy fried whole artichokes. Traces of olive oil stain the rustic brown paper on which they are often served. They are adorned only with sea salt and fresh lemon wedges. You eat the artichoke leaves whole, like perfectly fried crispy chips and then savor the tender heart. The key to recreating this recipe is prepping the artichokes to pull off and trim all the tough leaves. They are fried in olive oil in two batches. First to make sure the insides are cooked, then again before serving to heat and crisp up the leaves.
8 cups olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Brown paper or paper-towels
To prepare the artichokes, place a large bowl of water on the counter with the juice of 1 lemon. Peel off and discard the outer leaves of the artichoke all the way down until the leaves turn a light chartreuse green where they meet the heart. These are the tender leaves that can be fried and eaten.
Once the artichokes are peeled down to these tender leaves, cut off the tops using a large serrated knife, leaving about 1.5-2 inches of the leaves attached to the heart. If the artichoke has a stem, leave 2-3 inches of the stem and trim the rest. Trim off the outer layer of the stem. Also trim any remaining dark green remnants of the peeled leaves to reveal the tender light green parts of the artichoke.
Place the cleaned, trimmed tender artichokes into the lemon water. Use a plate over the artichokes to make sure they stay submerged in the water while you trim the remaining artichokes.
Once all the artichokes are trimmed, remove from water and drain well on paper towels. Then knock the artichokes against the towel and shake to help remove any water settled between the leaves. Dry well.
Place the olive oil in a large shallow pan or a stock pot with a candy thermometer. Bring the oil to 300-325 degrees. Using long tongs, carefully place 4 of the artichokes into the hot oil (water in hot oil will splatter – be careful). Ride the heat on the oil to keep the oil at 300-325 degrees. Turn the artichokes frequently to brown on all sides. This first fry will take about 10 minutes. Remove artichokes from heat and set aside to drain on paper towels. (At this point, a fork inserted into the heart should pierce fairly easily.) Repeat the fry procedure with the 4 remaining artichokes. Set aside to drain and cool. Turn off the heat on the oil.
When the artichokes are cooled, gently pull the center leaves apart to reveal the flowery center. Next use a spoon or a knife to remove and discard the choke, trying to keep the heart and tender leaves intact, as much as possible. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
When ready to serve, reheat the same oil to 300 degrees. With the leaves pulled open and gently flattened, place the artichokes (in batches) back into hot oil for about 3 minutes to heat and add the final crisping. Drain on paper towels.
Serve artichokes hot with more sea salt and lemon wedges. The artichoke leaves can be eaten whole, like crispy chips, and of course the tender heart.