If you have been lucky enough to visit Rome during artichoke season*, perhaps you’ve tasted the genius that is an artichoke cooked “alla giudia”—in the style popularized in the Jewish ghetto, where a cooked artichoke is smashed (maximizing surface area: genius) and then fried (tender artichoke with caramelized golden crispy edges: genius).
Imagine my shock when another haphazard dish of mine, born of neglect, reminded me of those delectable morsels. Frozen vegetables have long been a staple in my kitchen, since they come in so handy when I have yet to shop, or am planning dinner 20 minutes before I mean to eat it, or have put so much thought and effort into a main course that I’ve forgotten to figure in the veggies. Frozen artichoke hearts are a particular time saver—no paring! No simmering forever until they tenderize! In this case, I saute a few garlic cloves in a lot of olive oil, then add the frozen artichokes right to the pan—and p.s., the pan must be cast iron. Salt nicely, cook over medium-high heat (you want a quiet sizzle), and stir occasionally.
The progression will be first, a lot of rock-hard artichokes; then, thawed ones that give off some liquid; and finally, the liquid will dissolve, and the artichokes will start to turn golden. Part of why the neglect works so well is, the longer you let those artichokes sit against the cast iron, the nicer the golden bits will become. And I have tried larger batches in a regular saute pan—it doesn’t work. You’ll get some golden bits, but you’ll also get a ton of sticking. Don’t even try it with nonstick—you will be there forever without a single golden bit to show for it.
And the finished dish, granted, is a mess of little artichokes and leaves, not a glorious single artichoke on your plate. The elegance of the original is lost here. But the flavor is something you won’t mind at all during a quiet dinner at home.
*That would be spring. Never order an artichoke out of season in Rome. Roman waiters are typically super-friendly, but they will snicker at you in this case.