Sant’Erasmo is the northernmost area producing artichokes in Italy. Farmers in southern regions like Lazio and Sicily harvest artichokes twice a year, but the intrepid Venetians produce artichokes year round after the initial harvest, protecting the plants from winter weather with mounds of earth. In a single season, a plant can produce up to 25 artichokes.
Sant’Erasmo has only 850 or so inhabitants, 60 of whom are farmers, and supplies the Rialto market with many fresh vegetables, including eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes. But the island is most recognized for artichokes, particularly the carciofi violetti, or violet artichokes. These are a local delicacy. The first buds to appear in the spring are the most prized of all. This first bud, called the castraure (from castrare, to castrate or cut), is carefully removed with a special knife, to allow the buds beneath it to grow into larger carciofi violettii.
It is a springtime ritual in Venice to prepare the castraure, and many local restaurants feature them on their menu. Their delicate nature means they are best enjoyed raw, sliced or cut into eighths and enjoyed with olive oil and shaved grana cheese.
Here in the US, I cannot find artichokes that even resemble the wonderful castraure, but I’ve adapted a recipe from the now-defunct La Cucina Italiana magazine from an article on this delicacy. I’ve used globe artichokes that must be cooked to replace the young carciofini. A wonderful dinner, but I’m looking forward to creating this in Venice with the real thing!Print
Kathy Bechtel’s obsession with food and cooking began as a teenager. After years following a traditional career path as a telecommunications engineer, she left to attend culinary school and wine training, and is now combining her passions for food and wine, the outdoors, and travel as owner and Culinary Tour Director of Italiaoutdoors. In this role, Kathy leads small bicycle, skiing and walking tours that explore the authentic regional cuisines, local products and undiscovered wines of Northeastern Italy.