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Fusilli with Artichokes (Fusilli con i Carciofi)

Imagine a place where the chill of winter is alleviated by the most beautiful light the world has ever seen and by the arrival in the markets of so many artichokes that you have to think up new ways to use them. Such is Rome. For this recipe, size and shape are not important—in fact, this is a good chance to use up some of the less beautiful specimens. The artichokes should be tender, however, so trim them aggressively of any tough, inedible parts before cooking, and use as much pasta water as you need to make them soft and creamy. If you have any leftovers, use them to make a frittata.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 8 baby artichokes or 4 large artichokes 
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving 
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed 
  • Salt, to taste, plus 1 Tbs. 
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste 
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine or water 
  • 1 lb. fusilli, penne, mezzemaniche or rigatoni 

Directions:

Fill a bowl with water and squeeze the juice of the lemon into it. Working with 1 artichoke at a time, trim off the base of the stem, then peel away the stem’s dark, tough, stringy outer layer. Remove all the tough outer leaves until you reach the pale, tender inner leaves. Holding a small, sharp knife in your dominant hand and the artichoke in your other hand, turn the artichoke against the blade, raising the knife with each turn, to carve a sphere. Artistic perfection is not very important, but removing all the tough parts is. Then cut off any tough tops of the remaining leaves until only the tender edible portion remains. Cut the artichokes in half lengthwise, then cut each half into wedges not more than 1/2 inch wide at the widest point. (If using baby artichokes, simply quarter them.) Scrape away the choke (the fibrous hairs surrounding the heart). As you finish trimming each artichoke, drop it in the bowl of lemon water to keep it from turning black.

In a large, deep fry pan over medium heat, warm the 2 Tbs. olive oil. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is a deep golden brown, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove and discard the garlic.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot three-fourths full of water (at least 4 quarts) to a rapid boil over high heat.

While the water is heating, return the fry pan to medium-high heat, add the artichokes, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the artichokes are starting to brown and soften, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to very low, add the wine, cover and cook the artichokes, stirring occasionally, until they are quite tender, about 25 minutes.

When the artichokes are about half done, after about 15 minutes, add the 1 Tbs. salt and the pasta to the boiling water and stir for the first minute of cooking and occasionally thereafter.

When the pasta is about half done, uncover the artichokes, stir a ladleful of the pasta water into the fry pan and let it evaporate, then stir in a second ladleful and let it evaporate. Continue to add the water and let it evaporate until the pasta is ready. At the same time, use a wooden spoon to break up the artichoke pieces. (If they are not tender enough to cut with a wooden spoon, add more pasta water and cover the pan until they soften.)

Cook the pasta until al dente, according to the package instructions. Drain it but not too dry, add it to the fry pan and remove from the heat. Toss together the pasta and artichokes until well combined.

Divide the pasta among warmed bowls, top each with a swirl of olive oil and serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Foods of the World Series, Rome, by Maureen B. Fant (Oxmoor House, 2005).