Have you ever read a book that you nearly instantaneously fell in love with? My friend Angela recommended Delicious! by Ruth Reichl, which I’d seen on various lists of foodie books, but dismissed as “chick lit.” Those of you who follow my blog know of my disdain for “chick lit.” Yes, I’m a literary snob and I make no apologies for that. Someone has to hold the standard against horrible books like 50 Shades of Grey and those hideous Twilight books. But I digress.
The premise is simple – a young lady named Billie with an amazing palate and sense of smell, moves to NYC, gets a job at the food magazine Delicious!, becomes part of their family, becomes close to the Fontanari family who runs what I think must be my fantasy Italian deli store, and discovers a hidden cache of letters from WWII between a little girl dealing with her father’s disappearance in the war, and the late, great James Beard. But that’s just the surface. This book taught me so many amazing things, about libraries, cooking, the nature of family relationships, and exactly how to taste cheese. Oh, heaven!
One of the things I learned about from this book was how Italians were treated in this country during the second World War. I think of spaghetti and meatballs as one of the most quintessentially American dishes – hello, Chef Boyardee! In point of fact, there was an Italian chef called Boiardi whose cooking techniques helped send preserved food to the Allied troops, and he is widely considered a hero of the war. But there was also a hatred for Italians among many people, because of the fact that Italy had initially sided with Nazi German. So many Italian-Americans were shunned, treated horribly, and in fact, their food was referred to as “the food of the enemy.” Shocking for me to learn, but sadly, not surprising, as we see how many American citizens of other backgrounds and ethnicity are treated in the here and now.
The Fontanaris – Sal, his wife Rosalie, and their daughter, take Billie under their Italian wing, and invite her to family events left and right. During a celebration of Rosalie’s birthday meal, which she of course cooks herself (no self-respecting Italian mamma would allow ANYONE else to cook a meal!), this is what she makes. Tell me that doesn’t sound heavenly.
She made Jewish artichokes – which were so crisp they crackled when you put them in your mouth – lasagna, porchetta, and a puntarelle salad.
I could not find puntarelle (no surprise as it’s hard to find in the States) but the recipe I found said that endive leaves could be used. So I used endives, which have one hell of a peppery bite. The anchovy vinaigrette was absolutely perfect with it, and I give the method for it below, as well. But the star of this blog post is the Jewish-style deep fried artichokes, which was the first time I’d tried making them this way. May I just say they were sooooooo delicious! The prep time for the artichokes is a bit of a pain in the ass, so be warned. But the end result is worth it.
Method courtesy of Tori Avey’s awesome website. She is one great food historian!
2 large green globe artichokes (or purple Romanesco if you can find them)
2 cups olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 large lemons
4 endives, thinly sliced
3-4 garlic cloves
6 oil-packed anchovy fillets
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Small sprinkling of sea salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Rinse the artichokes, and trim the stem off the bottom, and pull off about 4 layers of the hard, outer leaves.
Slice off the top part of the denuded artichoke so you have the bottom halves only.
Cut the artichokes in half, and using a spoon or melon baller, remove the fuzz from the choke hearts. It’s very bitter so get all of it.
Rub the artichokes with lemon, and soak them in a bowl of ice water and more lemon juice to keep them fresh and prevent browning. Soak for about 10 minutes while you prepare the salad.
Slice the endives into ribbons.
Finely mince the garlic cloves and the anchovy fillets. Mix together with the olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice and salt. Pour over the endive slices, mix well and chill in the refrigerator while you finish the artichokes.
Remove the chokes from their ice bath, pat try, then steam them for 15 minutes in a steamer basket over boiling water.
Heat the 4 cups of olive oil on high in a in a large frying pan. Slice the artichokes into quarters, and add to the very hot oil. Be careful of spatters.
Cook for 7 minutes on each side, so they get nice and brown and crispy and crunchy. Total cook time is about 15 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
Squeeze over lemon juice, and cram down your throat along with the peppery, deliciously bitter, garlicky endive salad. It is one of the best things I’ve made yet! YUM!