Right now I am sitting in my apartment on a mild winter afternoon enjoying one of my favorite Tuscan winter lunches of all time- a salad of raw carciofi (artichokes) and a heaping pile of white cannellini beans drenched in a delightfully fragrant olive oil a friend gave me- freshly pressed with olives from his family’s estate. (We love friends having friends like this.)
Until I moved to Florence I had never eaten an artichoke that hadn’t been steamed or boiled for at least 45 minutes so I was a little skeptical the first time I tried this salad. In fact, I was pretty sure I would be chewing for the better part of the day, but I was pleasantly surprised at how tender the artichoke slices were and it didn’t take long for me to help myself to seconds.
There are a few secrets to making a really good carciofi salad, one that even Italians will compliment you on. First, you need to find the small purple artichokes from Italy called Morello or Morellino, which a specialty shop like Whole Foods might carry. Next you have to peel off all of the tough outer leaves. Slice off the prickly tops and the stems and cut the chokes in half.
As for the cannellini beans, soak a cup or two in a big bowl of water overnight. Rinse and put in a large pot with about 2 inches of over the top of the beans. Add a few sprigs of rosemary and bring the beans to a very low boil. Then turn the heat down as low as it will go and simmer the beans until tender, probably 30-45 minutes, making sure not to allow the skins to break. I put a cover on the pot and leave a little crack for the steam to get out so they don’t stand a chance of coming to another boil.
I always like to end my lunches in wintertime with a cup of chamomile tea and a few clementines from Sicily. I picked these up this morning at the open-air martket at Piazza Sant' Ambrogio. Aren't they pretty?