Venetian Memory

The fog on the vialetti. Le piazze piccole. The flying domes of San Marco. The bridges that go to and fro and take you to places that seem to be in the middle of nowhere, and are. All beautiful memories of Venice, especially in my favorite season, winter. But nothing captures my memory more than the food I ate on my many trips. Not in the Piazza San Marco, not the high end ristoranti, but in the alleyways behind the Rialto Bridge, the bacari in Cannareggio and San Paolo, that food. The food the locals ate.

On one of my trips, while drooling my way through the Rialto Market, I happened upon a merchant who was spinning artichokes to uncover the hearts. I have seen this done on a myriad of TV cooking shows, but never IRL. It amazed me that this could be done so quickly because every time I tried to follow the YouTube videos and reruns of Cooking with Lidia to perfect the trick, it turned out to be a lose lose proposition. This person was cleaning and dropping them into lemon water faster than you could spell artichoke. Shaking my head sadly, I just walked away.

Fast forward to dinner. In Trattoria La Madonna (a must if you ever visit Venice), just behind the aforementioned bridge, I saw warm artichoke salad on the menu and decided to order it. Thinking I was going to get grandma’s artichoke which is eaten leaf by leaf, the kind server placed before me a beautiful, warm salad of cleaned and sliced hearts. I had never eaten artichokes this way. These were same hearts I saw being dropped into the water earlier. It was delicious.

I bring you this salad. If you have frozen choke hearts, which is what I use, it is easy and tasty and if you like artichoke hearts, good for lunch or dinner every day of the week. This is what you need.

Frozen artichoke hearts are available in almost every supermarket. I buy mine from Sahadi’s, a Middle Eastern market in my neighborhood. To serve 2 people as a salad or a side, cook 4 hearts in boiling salted water until they are soft when pierced with the tip of a knife. I use a cake tester. If it goes all the way through with the smallest bit of resistance, they are done. While they are cooking, chop a 1/2 clove of garlic (or more if you like) and a big handful of parsley leaves. Zest a half of lemon and squeeze the juice into your serving dish. Add salt and pepper to taste and then add the garlic. When chokes are done, remove from water and drain and dry well. You want to remove as much of the water as possible so it does not dilute the dressing.

Slice them to the desired thickness and while warm, toss them into the serving dish with the lemon juice mixture. Add olive oil to your taste, and top and toss all with chopped parsley. The appetizer/salad/side can be served warm or at room temperature. I did not add crushed red pepper here, but feel free to do so if you want a bit of kick.

And there you have it. It isn’t a visit to the Rialto Bridge, but it sure can conjure up some good foodie memories.

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