Artichokes plunged into hot oil, zucchini flowers filled with mozzarella, deep-fried salt-cod fillets and ricotta desserts are all associated with the traditional table of Rome’s Jewish community. Today, these dishes are almost inseparable from the popular cooking of the city.
La cucina ebraica, or “Jewish cooking,” refers to recipes developed by the small group of Jewish city dwellers forced to live within a ghetto until 1848. They are credited with having invented the city’s cucina povera (peasant cooking).
The most popular dishes from the cucina ebraica are the fritti: deep-fried artichokes, zucchini flowers, salt-cod fillets, and bites of mozarella and vegetables.
Carciofi alla Guidia
Perhaps the most famous dish is carciofo alla guidia, a deep-fried artichoke that’s pressed flat until it resembles a flower dipped in bronze.
One of the most enviable skills of the Roman cook is the ability to trim a raw artichoke into a neat ball atop a smooth stem, all edible. The outer leaves are pulled off, and the stem is peeled. The artichoke is then rolled against a blade to remove the tips of the outer layer. Finally, the center leaves and choke are dug out, and the artichokes are placed in water.
The damp artichokes are tossed vigorously with salt and pepper and dropped into a deep pot of hot olive oil for about 20 minutes, then drained heat down. Just before serving, the fried artichokes are dropped into fresh hot oil for a brief second fry.
After the second fry, each artichoke is pressed gently, head down, between perforated metal disks to drain off the last drops of oil. The gives the artichoke its characteristic flowerlike shape. From there, it goes directly to the plate, alone or as part of a fritto misto.