Eating Jewish: Artichoke pesto with matzah
Reading through my copy of the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Gil Marks, I learned that artichokes are a common feature on the Passover tables of Italians and other Sephardim, since they usually first appear in early spring. I immediately knew that I wanted make this culinary tradition part of my own Passover celebrations. Yet, I have to admit that artichokes are one ingredient that intimidate me with their spiny outer leaves and inner choke that can be gag-inducing if not removed properly. Until I overcome my fear of artichokes (and for convenience's sake), I used using jarred or canned artichoke hearts.
Artichokes have a long history in the Jewish community, going all the way back to the rabbinic period⎯they're mentioned in the Talmud. Marks explains, “that the biblical kotz v’dardar (thorns and thistle) mentioned before Adam and Eve left Eden referred to cardoons and artichokes.” The Mishnah also mentions that as opposed to other thorny plants, artichokes (kinras) have gastronomic significance.
A favorite of Italian Jews (they were quick to catch on to that gastronomic significance), artichokes were referred to as the “Jewish vegetable” by non-Jewish Italians who disliked them. However, their popularity eventually spread out of the ghettos to the larger Italian community. They became especially liked among the Medicis of Florence, and by the late sixteenth century the artichoke had become an important ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine.
Among the Sephardim, two popular ways of preparing artichokes hearts are in a tomato sauce or a lemon sauce. Deep frying artichokes is another favorite Italian way to prepare this vegetable, as seen in a dish known as Carciofi alla Giudia (Crispy Fried Artichokes, Jewish Style).
This pesto comes together in a matter of minutes and is great if you’re looking for an easy recipe to include at your seder or to make during the rest of the holiday. Drawing on traditional Italian flavors, this simple recipe really lets the artichokes shine through and is absolutely delicious spread on matzah. You may even find that you don’t mind eating matzoh this Passover, as long as it’s spread with some of this pesto, of course! After the holiday is over, I would highly suggest tossing this pesto with pasta for a quick and satisfying meal.
This recipe is the perfect way to include this springtime vegetable in your Passover celebrations.
Adapted from a recipe on cbc.ca
1 can (398 ml) artichoke hearts in water, rinsed and cut in half
3 tablespoons slivered almonds
6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 large garlic clove
¼ cup olive oil
A pinch of salt
Heat the oven to 275 degrees, and toast the almonds until they are golden brown, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remember to watch them carefully because they can go from golden to black very quickly. (I’m speaking from experience!)
Place the artichokes, almonds, Parmesan cheese, garlic and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Adding the oil a bit at a time, blend until the mixture is smooth.