Pasta with artichokes and pancetta
Mid-November in Italy heralds the start of the carciofi (artichoke) season and so for 5 months we have this delicious and wonderfully nutritious thistle to brighten the gloom of winter and carry us into spring. I can’t remember eating a single artichoke for the first five decades of my life and now I couldn’t get through a winter without them. Strange too that something so tasty is also full of such important nutrients.
Artichokes have almost zero fat and are rich in fiber, minerals and antioxidants, especially folate and vitamins C and K. Folate has been discovered to have so many important health benefits that it’s now routinely added to cereals, flour and bread in over 70 countries, starting with the US where it has been a mandatory addition to these basic food products since 1998. Artichoke leaf extract supplements are now also a big business.
All well and good but I’d rather get folate in my diet the natural way and fresh artichokes may be the easiest and tastiest way to do that. A less obvious aspect of the Mediterranean diet for those who don’t visit Italy in the winter because as soon as you walk into a supermarket here at this time of year and see the shelves overflowing with artichokes you’ll realize just how much Italians love them.
We’ve written about artichokes before and given detailed instructions how to prepare them and once done this recipe couldn't be more simple. My 86 year old suocera has been cleaning and trimming artichokes for longer than I've been alive and if there were a speed competition for this task like there is for oyster shucking in Galway she'd be a national champion, so I'm happy to let her do the hard work.
Ingredients for 2 people:
1. 5 or 6 fresh artichokes trimmed as shown here and put into fresh water with lemon until you're ready to cook
2. 260 grams short pasta
3. 2 cloves garlic
4. extra virgin Italian olive oil
5. sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6. a little chopped fresh parsley
7. a few thin slices pancetta arrotolata (unsmoked of course)
1. Put the pancetta into a sautè pan on medium heat for a few minutes until the fat is rendered and then add olive oil and the artichoke pieces and cook for about 15 minutes as described in the 5 steps here
2. Use any type of pasta you want but for us a short pasta like fusilli or mezzi rigatoni (photo right) works best. Boil the pasta until al dente while the artichokes are cooking and then add the pasta to the artichoke pan and mix well for a minute. Serve with the chopped parsley and a glug of your best olive oil on top.
3. No cheese please! All the recipes that you will come across that advocate grated cheese on this dish are just plain wrong if you want to really appreciate the quite subtle taste of fresh artichokes.