Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

A few nights ago I awoke from a deep sleep to find my bed furiously shaking from side to side. By the time I opened my eyes it had stopped. What a strange dream I thought before dozing off again. It had seemed so real.

When the swaying jolted me from my slumber yet again, accompanied by a loud crash, I turned over and blamed the bizarre experience on late night spaghetti alla carbonara paired with too much cabernet franc. But I had only had one glass…must be the pasta I surmised.


Violet Artichokes

Violet Artichokes


In the morning I set off by boat for the Festa del Carciofo Violetto (Violet Artichoke Festival) on Sant”Eramus, the island also known as Venice’s orchard. I was excited to learn about the famed violet artichokes, the first bulbs of the season, but the only talk was of the earthquake.


Farm on Sant'erasmo

Farm on Sant’erasmo


Did I actually just experience my first earthquake and not even know it, imagining instead I had dreamt of green giants shaking me awake in order not to miss the much anticipated festa?

By the time I arrived stalls filled with the island’s fresh produce: lettuce, cabbage, onions, zucchini, and sweet peas were lined up next to tables overflowing with bottles of wine from local vintners.

When I approached a vendor and inquired about the artichoke’s growing season he replied,”6.0—can you believe? Luckily, everything in my house was fine…usually is.” He said Venice gets earthquakes about once a year, but there’s hardly any damage due to the water, which acts as a shock absorber.


Vendor trimming artichokes

Vendor trimming artichokes


“The epicenter was north of Bologna,” another man told me as he cut the bitter stalks from the tulip shaped florets that resemble the unopened flowers that actually are. If it weren’t for their delicate flavor and subtle texture, they would be left to grow into large purple thistles. He removed the outer petals from the artichoke until he could see the white base, before tossing it into a tub of water with lemons to preserve its color.

“I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep,” a tourist told me as we both eyed a large table full of food, samples from the buffet spilling over with anxious eaters. “It was my first earthquake and I was terrified the hotel was going to crumble on top of me.”

Everyone was anxious to share their experiences–where they were and how they felt when they realized they were in an actual earthquake. I couldn’t contribute much to the conversation, so I looked in awe at the large rounds of artichoke cheese and abundant displays of island honey.


Artichoke plants

Artichoke plants


I listened attentively to the people standing next to me while narrowing down the selection for my own personal tribute to the artichoke. Every dish was designed to showcase its many edible forms: paté, marinated, sauteed with shrimp, in a cold salad with tuna, mixed with cuttlefish on polenta, whipped into a frittata, lightly batter and fried until crisp, served atop grilled pork, and blended into a cream sauce for penne.


Fried artichokes

Fried artichokes


“I didn’t even realize it was an earthquake,” I admitted, ordering a slice of white lasagna with artichokes cooked into its creamy béchamel sauce. People starred at me in disbelief as a quickly added a side of fried artichokes to my request, unable to resist the temptation.

When the crowd thinned out, I stayed behind and found a local woman to explain the basics. It seems Sant’Eramus is famed for its violet artichokes. “The best in the world,” she assured me. They start to bloom in May and are only available for about two months. Once the top flower, the choicest piece, is cut, the bottom begins to fill out with firmer bulbs.

The markets in Venice are now full of violet artichokes; however, soon they will be replaced with their rounded green cousin. In the meantime I’ll make the most of the season and prepare violet artichoke risotto for dinner (recipe below).

Let’s hope tonight…and for the rest of my stay, there’s no more shakin’ goin’ on.


Hostess gift

Hostess gift


Violet Artichoke Risotto

4 servings

6 violet artichokes

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves minced garlic

1/2 onion, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

1 cup Arborio rice

1/2 cup white wine

3 cups chicken or vegetable stock (or water)

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup quality Parmesan cheese, grated


  1. Cut most of the stalk off the artichokes, leaving about 1”. Peel the outer leaves until you come to the white base. Cut off the purple tips and thinly slice the remaining pieces.
  1. Place the olive oil in a medium-sized stockpot over medium heat. When hot, add the garlic and onion and sauté for a few minutes. Add the sliced artichokes. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Salt.
  1. Add the rice and stir until thoroughly coated in oil. Turn down the heat to medium-low. Add the white wine and let absorb.
  1. Add stock slowly, one cup at a time. Stir frequently while cooking. The amount of liquid will vary– it’s not an exact measurement. You’re looking for the risotto to be creamy and the rice somewhat firm. Salt more if necessary.
  1. Remove from heat and add the butter and cheese. Stir thoroughly. Serve hot, garnishing with extra cheese and chopped parsley if you like.

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