Crav­ing Car­ciofi

An ar­ti­choke-fu­elled jour­ney from Rome to Venice

Taste & Travel - - Destinations - by MICHELE PETER­SON

THERE’S PLENTY TO SEE AROUND MY ho­tel, the stately Ho­tel Regina Baglioni in Rome. Sit­u­ated on Via Veneto, the birth­place of “la dolce vita” as epit­o­mized by Fed­erico Fellini, it’s just steps from Villa Borgh­ese, the Span­ish Steps and the newly ren­o­vated Trevi Foun­tain.

But it’s spring in Italy and for me that means ar­ti­chokes. I’m par­tic­i­pat­ing in Ul­ti­mate Italy, a 13-day jour­ney from Rome to Venice, that’s one of the new­est ad­di­tions to In­sight Va­ca­tions’ Lux­ury Gold col­lec­tion. While my es­corted tour will fea­ture many high­lights such as a cook­ing class in Tus­cany, my hid­den agenda is to pur­sue my pas­sion for car­ciofi.

I’m not alone in my ad­mi­ra­tion for this globe­shaped veg­etable, beloved through­out Italy since at least the 16th cen­tury. Yet, with its sharp spikes, fi­brous choke and leath­ery outer leaves, the ar­ti­choke is one of the world’s most in­tim­i­dat­ing veg­eta­bles. It is af­ter all, a this­tle. But it’s also one of the most re­ward­ing.


My culi­nary pil­grim­age be­gins across the Tiber River, where I spend some free time on a walk­ing tour of the Tras­ta­vere district with Eat­ing Italy. My hope is that our food tast­ings will fea­ture an ar­ti­choke or two. I’m not dis­ap­pointed. Our first stop, at Da Enzo, a tiny trat­to­ria hid­den on a cob­ble­stone back­street, fea­tures car­ciofo alla giu­dia, ar­ti­chokes served “Jewish style.” Ap­pear­ing like gi­ant in­verted sun­flow­ers, they are wrapped in a crispy crust that yields an in­te­rior as soft as a ripe av­o­cado. I don’t ask if we’re sup­posed to eat the stems, I just do, en­joy­ing the slightly stringy, but­tery tex­ture. Too soon it’s all over and I get the ter­ri­ble feel­ing I may never taste any­thing quite as good again.

For­tu­nately, back at the Ho­tel Regina Baglioni, I discover that other res­tau­rants are also cel­e­brat­ing ar­ti­choke sea­son. Our trav­el­ling concierge Daniele Nan­neti rec­om­mends Pep­pone, a res­tau­rant es­tab­lished in 1809 that’s just a few doors away. Ac­com­pa­nied by An­thony Rich of In­sight Va­ca­tions, a fel­low food fan pur­su­ing his own Ital­ian quest — in his case it’s spaghetti zuc­chine e bot­targa, a fish roe meal his Italy-born grand­fa­ther made in New York City — we’re both thrilled to see our dishes listed on the day’s menu. We do as the Ro­mans do and en­joy a leisurely lunch. I opt for tagli­olini car­ciofi e men­tuc­cia, ten­der pasta with ar­ti­chokes and spring­time mint. Then, I order ar­ti­chokes — stuffed, as car­ciofi alla ro­mana — as well. Who knows what the rest of Italy might hold?


In Florence, af­ter mar­vel­ling at Michelan­gelo’s David with the tour’s art his­to­rian, I head for Mer­cado di San Lorenzo, the his­toric in­door food mar­ket. En­cour­aged by the crates of ar­ti­chokes on dis­play, I join the lo­cals at a tra­di­tional steam ta­ble. Here, a plate of riga­toni with Bolog­nese sauce and a large bowl of steamed ar­ti­chokes of­fer a sat­is­fy­ing mid­day meal. With each earthy bite I’m struck by how dif­fer­ent th­ese are from the rep­til­ian-look­ing veg­gies I’ve bat­tled with at home. I mash the ten­der stems to cre­ate a paste to slather on the crusty bread as though an olive tape­nade.

More plea­sures await at Villa le Maschere, a lateRe­nais­sance es­tate com­plete with swim­ming pool, in the beau­ti­ful Mugello val­ley just north of Florence. Built in the 16th cen­tury and re­cently re­stored, this lux­u­ri­ous villa once served as a re­treat for popes, sov­er­eigns and no­bil­ity. Its

PHOTOS THIS SPREAD CL0CKWISE FROM TOP LEFT Trat­to­ria Da Enzo in Tras­ta­vere, Rome; Ex­pect to see many va­ri­eties of ar­ti­chokes in Italy in spring.

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