Roman-Jewish food is having a moment, 2,000 years after Europe’s oldest Jewish community settled in the Italian capital.

Two books have been published recently celebrating this glorious marriage of cuisines: Cooking alla Giudia (Artisan Books) by Italian author, Benedetta Jasmine Guetta, who is now based in the US, and Jewish flavours of Italy: A family cookbook (Green Bean) by Kilburn-based Silvia Nacamulli.

Silvia moved to London from Rome as a student and now lives around the corner to me. Although she studied politics, she’s made her living as a teacher and cook, regularly writing recipes for the Jewish Chronicle.Ham & High: Silvia Nacamulli author of Jewish Flavours of Italy at her home in KilburnSilvia Nacamulli author of Jewish Flavours of Italy at her home in Kilburn (Image: Kerstin Rodgers)

She talked about her cookbook last month at JW3 on Finchley Road, telling Guardian columnist Rachel Roddy how it was 10 years in the making and offered both recipes and a history of Roman-Jewish food.

My particular interest is the classic Jewish dish of carciofi alla giudia, which I ate last summer at Nonna Betta, a restaurant in Rome's Jewish quarter. The unctuous soft layers of pasta slathered in cream with a delicate artichoke aroma rising through a lightly browned top was one of my best ever meals.

January to April is artichoke season in Rome and last month I visited Silvia at her sunlit kitchen to get tips on the correct type of artichoke and how to prepare it. There are two specific types: romanesco or mammole; the latter is currently available at Natoora via (Whenever Silvia’s family visits London, they sneak over a suitcase full of the thistles.)Ham & High: There are two types of artichoke Mammole or RomanescoThere are two types of artichoke Mammole or Romanesco (Image: Kerstin Rodgers)

If you can’t get hold of these particular ones, Guetta says any purple-leafed globe artichoke will do at a pinch, as they tend to be softer than the green. Artichokes are a favourite food; admittedly tedious to prepare, but well worth the effort. They are also very good for your health, being rich in the vegetable fibre inulin that lowers blood sugar and blood pressure.

How to prepare and trim artichokes

Before starting, have a large bowl of water with half a lemon set aside to put all the prepared artichokes. Another lemon will be needed to rub all the exposed parts of the veg to stop them going black.

Take off all the large outer leaves until you have half pale green leaves. Trim the fibrous parts off the sides of the stalk, leaving the tender inner core. Ideally you will have a special curved knife but any small knife will do. Cutting in circular upwards strokes, trim off the hard purple parts of the leaves. It ends up looking like a pretty rose or peony flower. Scoop out the hard choke in the middle with a sharp spoon if making carciofi alla giudia.

Rub with lemon and leave in the water until all the artichokes are prepared.Ham & High: Artichoke LasagneArtichoke Lasagne (Image: Kerstin Rodgers)

Artichoke lasagne (Serves 6)

6 to 8 mammole artichokes

2 lemons

60g butter

Bechamel sauce

60g butter

3 tbsp plain flour

1 litre whole milk

Salt and pepper

For the lasagne:

400g lasagne sheets

200g parmesan, grated

150g mozzarella, sliced thinly


First prepare the artichokes then slice thinly.

Using a deep frying pan, melt 60g of butter, add the artichoke slices and just cover with water. Cook until soft.

In another pan, make the béchamel sauce by melting butter, adding flour and slowly adding the milk, stirring all the time. Once the sauce is cooked – thick with no lumps – add the cooked artichoke slices.

Ready a large pan of boiling water with a large spoon of sea salt. Cook the lasagne sheets in it, making sure they don't stick to each other.

Grease a large baking tin with butter and preheat the oven to 200ºC. 

Have all of your ingredients – the artichoke béchamel sauce, the grated parmesan, the sliced mozzarella and the cooked lasagne sheets – ready.

Cover the bottom of the baking tin with a layer of lasagne sheets. Add enough artichoke béchamel to cover the pasta. Add the grated parmesan and mozzarella slices.

Repeat this process until you have three layers of pasta.

Top the pasta with béchamel, parmesan and mozzarella.

Bake the lasagne for 40 minutes. Serve with a green salad.

Ham & High: Twice fried artichokesTwice fried artichokes (Image: Kerstin Rodgers)Carciofi alla giudia (Serves four)

This is the recipe from Silvia's book 'Jewish flavours of Italy'. They also freeze well.


4 artichokes Mammole, Romanesco or Cimarolo

2 lemons, quartered

Olive or sunflower oil, for frying

Sea salt and black pepper


Clean and trim the artichokes, acidulating the water with the lemon quarters. Drain the prepared artichokes and pat dry. Smear the centre generously with salt and pepper.

The artichokes will be fried twice: first at 150ºC for 15-20 minutes. Drain and cool for a few minutes. With your fingers or two forks, open up the centre to resemble a sunflower. (You could freeze them at this point.)

Then refry at 180ºC until crisp. Serve immediately.