Roman-Jewish food is having a moment, two thousand years after Europe’s oldest Jewish community settled in that city.
Recently two books have been published celebrating Jewish-Italian food: ‘Cooking alla Giudia’ (Artisan Books 2022) by an Italian author, Benedetta Jasmine Guetta, who moved to the United States; and ‘Jewish flavours of Italy, a family cookbook’ (Green Bean 2022), by Silvia Nacamulli, who is local to North West London. Silvia moved to London from Rome as a student and since resides around the corner from me in Kilburn. Although she studied politics, she’s made her living as a teacher and cook, regularly providing recipes for the Jewish Chronicle.
She did a talk about her new cookbook this February with Guardian columnist Rachel Roddy at the JW3 centre on Finchley Road. ‘Jewish flavours of Italy’ has been ten years in the making; as well as recipes, it offers a history of Roman-Jewish food.
My particular interest is the classic Jewish dish of carciofi alla giudia which I ate last summer at a restaurant ‘Nonna Betta’ in the Jewish quarter of Rome. Unctuous, with soft layers of pasta slathered in cream and an artichoke perfume rising through a lightly browned cheese top, it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had.
It is now – January to April – artichoke season in Rome. Last month I visited Silvia at her sunlit kitchen to get tips on the correct type of artichoke and how to prepare it. There are two specific types: romanesco or mammole; the latter is currently available at Natoora via Ocado.com. (Whenever Silvia’s family visits London, they sneak over a suitcase full of the thistles.) If you can’t get hold of these particular ones, Guetta says any purple-leafed globe artichoke will do in a pinch, as they tend to be softer than the green.
Artichokes are a favourite food; a pfaff to prepare, admittedly – but well worth the effort. They are also very good for your health, being full of inulin, that is vegetable fibre. Inulin lowers blood sugar and blood pressure. We should aim to eat 30g of fibre a day.
How to prepare and trim artichokes for these dishes:
Before starting, have a large bowl of water with half a lemon set aside where you will put all the prepared artichokes. Another lemon will be needed to rub all the exposed parts of the artichokes to prevent them from going black.
Take off all the large outer leaves until you have half pale green leaves. Trim the fibrous parts off the sides of the stalk, leaving the tender inner core.
Ideally you will have a special curved knife but any small knife will do. Cutting in a circular upwards stroke, trim off the hard purple parts of the leaves. It ends up looking like a pretty rose or peony flower. Scoop out the hard choke in the middle with a sharp spoon if making carciofi alla giudia.
Rub with lemon and leave in the water until all the artichokes are prepared.
Carciofi alla Giudia
- 4 artichokes (Mammole also known as Romanesco or Cimarolo)
- 2 lemons, quartered
- Olive or sunflower oil, for frying
- sea salt and black pepper
- Clean and trim the artichokes, acidulating the water with the lemon quarters.
- Drain the prepared artichokes and pat dry. Smear the centre generously with salt and pepper.
- The artichokes will be fried twice: first at 150ºC for 15-20 minutes. Drain and cool for a few minutes. With your fingers or 2 forks, open up the centre to resemble a sunflower. (You could freeze them at this point.)
- Then refry at 180ºC until crisp. Serve immediately.
- 6 to 8 mammole artichokes
- 2 lemons
- 60 g butter
- 60 g butter
- 3 tbsp plain flour
- 1 litre whole milk
- salt and pepper
To construct the lasagne
- 400 g lasagne sheets
- 200 g parmesan, grated
- 150 g mozzarella, sliced thinly
- First prepare the artichokes, following the instructions in the article, rubbing them with a cut lemon, quartering them and placing them in large bowl of water with a squeezed half lemon. Once completed, slice the artichokes thinly.
- Using a deep frying pan, melt 60g of butter, add the artichoke slices and just cover them with water. Cook until soft.
- In another pan make the béchamel sauce by melting butter, adding flour and slowly adding the milk, stirring all the time. Once the sauce is sufficiently cooked, thick with no lumps, add the cooked sliced artichokes.
- Ready a large pan of boiling water with a large spoon of sea salt to cook the pasta sheets. Cook the lasagne sheets, making sure they don't stick to each other.
Constructing the lasagne
- Grease a large baking tin with butter.
- Preheat the oven to 200ºC
- Have all of your ingredients, the artichoke béchamel sauce, the grated parmesan, the sliced mozzarella and the cooked lasagne sheets ready.
- Cover the bottom of the baking tin with a layer of lasagne sheets
- Add enough artichoke béchamel to cover the pasta
- Add the grated parmesan and mozzarella slices.
- Repeat this process until you have 3 layers of pasta.
- Top the pasta with béchamel, parmesan and mozzarella.
- Bake the artichoke lasagne for 30 minutes. Serve hot with a green salad.