The colours of the lagoon | Sauteed Venetian Artichokes

woman hands holding bowl full of raw purple artichokes on rustic wooden table with drape Processed with VSCOcam with m3 preset

These small artichokes are a delight. They’re so beautiful that I fancy looking at them rather than eat them!
On the old Spanish family table there is a light, hand-dyed cloth. I place my beautiful artichokes into an engraved pewter plate. A beam of sunlight is enough to create the magic.
The purple colour of the artichokes reminds me of Venice, its lagoon and its deserted islands; to be on a boat at sunset when the colours blend together in the evening, the purples and the azures prevailing, and a quietness that stimulates the imagination. It makes me think of the crimson dresses of the noble Venetians and the coloured shades made by the Venetian painters.
If I were to look for that very colour in my family’s studio, it would be the ultramarine violet. When applied, its transparency covers slightly and it also dry quickly. It’s the right match for the artichokes!
I remember those magic and silent moments, especially in that part of the lagoon where there is an island called Sant’Erasmo. In the past this island was the vegetable garden of Venice and it supplied the whole city.Its land is still farmed today, amid ancient vineyards and little purple flowers growing wild. When I first saw it, I couldn’t believe my eyes. A real farming land just in front of Venice, only surrounded by water!

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woman hands holding tray full of raw purple artichokes on rustic table with blue drape

I brought back a box full of these young artichokes, just picked from the field. Towards the end of April, they are the first to be harvested and locally they are known as “castraure”. Later on, each plant will be very generous and grow about twenty or so artichokes. The water stirred by the oar is dark green and blue which are the same colours of the artichoke’s stems and leaves. These artichokes have breathed the sea air and their roots have been nourished by a mix of salty and fresh water from the soil. That’s why they have such a light, naturally salty, special taste. They are firm to the touch and have a nice smell of the lagoon. If I close my eyes I can recall those wonderful colours, the boat trip and the silence that nature always preserves.
Now those colours are in front of me once again in these small, precious buds. Small like the place they were grown. And even today surrounded by fabrics and the fading lights of the late afternoon, as after a day spent boating in the open air, I remember my appetite. I can already hear the garlic and parsley sizzling in the olive oil; it’s the promise of something good. Oil, garlic and parsely are the basis for several Venetian dishes and are often used in many local recipes, from fish to risotto and for the artichokes, too. They are promises pleasing to the nose. The lovely smell in the air makes you feel immediately hungry!

The typical taste of the artichokes, especially if accompanied by a good wine, is a revelation to the refine palates. It’s a perfect blend of a sweet and sour, and a sip of wine reaffirms the taste of the artichoke. But to fully comprehend it, one should try it paying particular attention to the taste.
Some tastes seem ancient because they are well established and strong. It makes me think back to the architecture of Venice, the noble city, which is solid and lightweight at the same time, undulating when reflected on the water. Like the artichokes! They are undulating and full of flavour…and while I’m eating them I can still hear the rustle of the long, ultramarine violet dresses…

Sauteed Venetian Artichokes
Serves 2
Recipe type: Vegetables, Vegan, Venetian
*You can cook in this way many types of artichokes. If you can't find a boat to take you to St. Erasmo, I suggest you should use the purple artichokes which are the youngest and more tender and can be found in springtime.
  • 8-10 small artichokes
  • 2 big cloves of garlic
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small bunch of fresh parsley
  • 250ml vegetable stock
  • 1 lemon
  • Salt
  1. Pull away the outer leaves and trim those that are prickly. Cut the artichokes in half and wash them in a bowl of cold water and lemon juice. Leave them to soak while you proceed with the following:
  2. Heat the vegetable stock in a small pot. Clean and wash the parsley and the garlic, then roughly chop them together.
  3. Put the olive oil in a nonstick saucepan, better if high edged, and add the chopped garlic and parsley. Now, take the artichokes out of the water and dry them slightly.
  4. Sauté the garlic and parsley, and add the artichokes, halved side down in the saucepan. Leave it to simmer for a few minutes on medium heat, and then add enough vegetable stock to almost to cover.
  5. Put the lid on and leave it to cook on medium-high heat for about 20 minutes. Then take the lid off and leave it for 5 -10 minutes to reduce the stock but be careful not to let them dry too much. Add the salt to taste.


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  • Avatar
    Reply Luana 19/01/2016 at 17:02

    We also use fresh wild mint & chili to season… slightly anticipating the season (having the first harvest by the end of February)! Completely agree with you: The typical taste of the artichokes, especially if accompanied by a good wine, is a revelation to the refine palates:
    Which is the wine you choose to accompany this dish?

    • Zaira Zarotti
      Reply Zaira Zarotti 19/01/2016 at 23:38

      What a wonderful idea! I don’t like so much fresh mint but with the artichokes sounds great! Might be a little too strong but I like to have a glass of Raboso!

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