New olive oil is ready!

Time to harvest! In these past weeks most of the  people  living in countryside  areas have been busy with olive picking. The press rooms of commercial mills were bustling with activity.

We travelled to our  favorite  village in the Abruzzi and helped our neighbour with olive picking. Our children had a lot of fun cleaning the olives and removing the stems, leaves, twigs, and other remains left with the olives.  It was a sunny and warm day !

The day after we went to the village mill  to buy some new olive oil: it is fresh, fragrant, slightly peppery and perfumed and we love using it simply on some bread slices with  a pinch of salt. Over the months its spiciness will mellow but the oil will be still marvelous!

View from the village

Olive oil

This morning  it was raining  hard over Rome so we decided to drive to the Roman Hills (Castelli Romani) to buy some good olive oil.  Our olive oil  supply bought in Tuscany last summer was at the end: I had been trying desperately  to squeeze the last few drops  from the bottle last night but I was unsuccesful in dressing my salad…

I had a recommendation  in the area of Velletri so we drove there. I called the owners before leaving  to be sure they had olive oil for sale.

After 40 minutes we arrived  in a beautiful countryside and the sky was clearing up, you could see the coastline in the distance.

The owner of the farm and his wife welcomed us on the door: the first thing I noticed was the  garden full of lush velvety camelias ranging from red to pale white. The Velletri area is renown for the camelia plants and there is  a camelia fest every year in March.

They were a very nice couple, friendly and enthusiastic. They showed us all the garden, with the camelias, citrus plants, cactaceous plants and the large olive grove (some 600 olive trees).

Then they led us into the frantoio (olive press room ) where the olives are pressed to produce the new oil in November:  the press was quiet and all shiny awaiting next season.

Then the wife brought a tray with toasted bread slices and here comes the best part of the morning: olive oil tasting!

We tasted the 3 different qualities they produce: delicate, classic and Itrano (made out of of olives typical of  the Itri region).

The first two were very good but similar in taste, while the Itrano was stronger with a distinctive fresh “grassy” taste that smelled of  artichokes and other herbs. They were all delicious but the Itrano was superb!

In Italy olive trees  are planted all over the country and the variety of fragrances, colours and tastes is incredible. Some of the most famous extra virgin olive oils come from Tuscany, Liguria and Umbria but many lesser known areas produce good olive oils such as the Roman countryside.

We decided to buy a small tank of classic to be used as an all purpose and 3 bottles of Itrano quality just to dress  foods without cooking the oil so that its flavour will remain intact.

olive oil, bread and mimosa

Before leaving the owners gave some mimosa flowers and a humongous grapefruit from their garden and we left very happy and satisfied.

humongous grapefruit and Lorenzo's hand

Roman artichokes

This is the best time of the year for eating the Roman artichokes that we call  carciofi romaneschi. This is a local quality that grows  in the Roman countryside and all the Lazio region.  From february to the end of april the artichoke fairs flourish in all the area.

Just take a stroll in one of the many city markets to see artichoke bunches abounding on the  stalls.

They are  round, fleshy, tender, perfect for being stuffed and little goes wasted.

In Rome they are a typical side dish on the menu of most restaurants. In most places they’re served  alla romana which is in the Roman manner: stewed in a pan with olive oil, some white wine and water,  and stuffed with  garlic, mentuccia romana (a wild  mint growing in the fields) salt and  pepper.

In the area of the Jewish Ghetto and Trastevere you can find  the artichokes cooked alla giudia (Jewish style): they’re fried  in a large pan full of olive oil, the artichokes must be covered  completely in oil. They’re delicious! Crispy on the outside but with a soft core…

Watch this  link from Giggetto a  good traditional restaurant in the Jewish Ghetto area:

These romanesque artichokes are also very good if  served fritti: cut in slices, first dipped in  beaten egg, then rolled in flour and fried in olive oil. Some people simply fry them with a flour and water batter, other simply roll them in the flour and fry them.

I normally prepare artichokes stewed alla romana and simply stuff them with some pepper, salt, parsley or wild mint if I have it and olive oil. My mother used to stuff them in several ways, such as breadcrumbs and anchovies, or simply by filling their core with a big  Parmesan chunk, pepper, salt and oil.

I cook them using a pressure cooker because they can cook with very little water and  oil and they’re very tender. In a traditional pan it will take longer.

Another favourite plate with artichokes is the frittata: not strictly an omelette,  the Italian frittata is more like a thick tortilla. An omelette is normally like a wrap stuffed with different things, the frittata instead is made by beating the eggs in a bowl and pour inside the vegetables or other ingredients required  and them cook them in a frying pan. Before pouring the artichokes in the bowl with the  beaten eggs I cook them in a frying pan in thin slices with some oil and a little water until soft.

frittata with artichokes; photo taken from

The most important thing to prepare all these  good artichoke recipes is to clean them well before cooking: first you’ll have to remove all the dark and hard outer leaves, and then cut the top  with a sharp knife like you were shaping them into a rosebud. Cut the stem a little if you like and peel it too. Once you’ve trimmed them put them in a bowl with water and some lemon juice to prevent oxidation and  your artichokes from turning brown .

By cleaning them in this way you can eat everything once ready.

Here is as should they look after trimming them:

my peeled artichokes

Another recipe I recommend if your artichokes are really nice and fresh is an healthy artichoke salad: after cleaning the artichokes and putting them in acidulated water  I take a very sharp knife and I slice them really thin, then put them on a large dish, spray with Parmesan flakes and dress with olive oil, ground pepper and lemon juice. Make the salad a couple of hours before so the the artichokes  can absorb the dressing.

One more curiosity: the  name of this vegetable has nothing to do with the verb “to choke” despite it was widely believed  that some of the sharp leaves with thorns could be dangerous for choking. The name comes originally from the Arabic  al-ḫaršuf , which then passed into the Spanish and became alcarchofa.  Italians adopted the word and transformed it into articiocco which is also the source for the English term.