The violet artichoke from Sant'Erasmo
The precious vegetable of the Venice lagoon
Cultivated since ancient times in the Lagoon, already described in the 1500s by Sansovino, the "violet flower" is today one of the most sought-after delicacies by the best restaurants in the world.
The Sant’Erasmo artichoke, with its tender and fleshy heart, has found the ideal conditions to grow on this wonderful island of Venice since ancient times, thanks to its saline soils and a temperate climate caressed by the lagoon breeze.
The real jewel of this plant are the castraùre, the buds of its first flowering in April that are immediately cut to ensure that other shoots, at least twenty per plant called botoli, grow luxuriantly.
A highly sought-after delicacy, given that these flowers are available for a very limited period of the year, only a few weeks, between May and June.
The violet artichoke is a true miracle of the Lagoon, exquisitely complete to the taste without having to add anything else
(Arrigo Cipriani, owner of Harry’s Bar and artichoke farmer)
Among fields of vegetables, orchards and vineyards, the life of the Island of Sant’Erasmo flows under the banner of agriculture, characterized by a rare atmosphere suspended in an ancient time. Among the six hundred inhabitants, some “heroic” farmers continue, with great passion, the cultivation of this precious vegetable, keeping alive an important tradition of the Venetian lagoon.
Today Slow Food Presidium, the main producers have, in fact, gathered to identify the island’s real artichokes and protect their artisanal work, made exclusively by hand, in the gardens overlooking the lagoon.
The seasonal harvest begins at the end of April with the castraùre, which are born in correspondence with San Marco’s day, the patron saint of Venice, and continues until the end of June. A farm-to-table product only, it’s grown also in the islands of Vignole, Mazzorbo, Lio Piccolo and Torcello.
To buy them, and live a wonderful authentic Venetian experience, you can go early in the morning to the Rialto Market, where the gardeners land with their traditional boats, the caorline, loaded with fresh fruit and vegetables.
Why you will love it
For its unmistakable flavor, sweet with a pleasantly bitter aftertaste, and versatility in the kitchen.
Where to taste it
In season it is a must ingredient in the best restaurants of the Venetian lagoon. To taste it in the more traditional versions, you can go to one of the Cipriani’s restaurants, like the legendary Harry’s Bar, while for a gourmet version, the address to try is Gio’s, at St Regis Venice, where chef Nadia Frisina, accomplices its Sicilian origins, propose them in ‘cocotte’ with Pecorino cheese from Enna and black pepper.
The perfect pairing
Castraùre are eaten raw, with a drizzle of oil and lemon, while artichokes are traditionally batter fried, cooked in a pan (in tecia), or served with schìe, the typical lagoon shrimp.
Photo by Sant’Erasmo courtesy of Ph. Giovanni Vecchiato