Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Hooray for cardoons!

It's finally that time of year! We are revelling in the deliciousness of cardoons (Cynara cardunculus)! We have a penchant for growing Italian crops (especially after Terra Madre), and the cardoon is no exception. In fact, we first ate it in Italy. The glorious cardoon - ancestor to the artichoke and autunmal food of northern Italian eaters. The Italians will eat this bitter vegetable raw in the bagna cauda, as well as bake it in milk and cheese or even fry it! We love the cardoon for its beauty, flavor and ability to hold for months in our farm cooler - giving us a fix throughout the lean local veggie season. YUM! We particularly enjoy cooking it to top a nice cheesy risotto with lots of garlic. This amazing vegetable is part of that bitter veggie department of food that is too strong for most American palates, though I think if you know how to cook it and learn to enjoy its unique artichokey flavors, you too will start to become addicted to the cardoon! A quick check to Wikipedia and you will learn that the cardoon is a source of vegetarian rennet used to make vegetarian cheeses, and its seeds are also being looked into as a potential source of biodiesel. Arcane, but mighty, give the cardoon a try while you can! Some recipes and prep info for your reading and eating pleasure!
Behold the cardoon leaf!
The green matter must be removed from the leaf - it is the midrib that is eaten.
Behold the cardoon midrib!
Now you must peel the outer side of the midrib - it is sort of like celery in that it has stringy fibers.
Fibers removed, chop into 2 inch pieces and boil in a salty water bath for 30 minutes until it is fork-tender. Drain and then commence with recipe!
Cardoon Gratin
Serves 4-6
  • cardoon (about eight 2" pieces)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup Chicken Stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup grated gruyere
  1. Place cream, stock, and bay leaf in a large saucepan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Wash cardoons, then remove and discard tough outer stalks. Peel off stringy fibers. Cut cardoons into 1 ½"–2" pieces, placing them immediately into cream mixture as you go, to prevent them from discoloring.
  2. Bring cream mixture to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until cardoons are tender, about 1 hour. Using a slotted spoon, transfer cardoon pieces to individual gratin dishes (or a 1-quart baking dish).
  3. Preheat oven to 350°. Reduce cream mixture to about ¾ cup over medium heat, about 30 minutes. Discard bay leaf and divide reduced sauce equally between gratin dishes, sprinkle gruy√®re on top, and bake until golden and bubbly, about 30 minutes.

Cardoon Risotto
Serves 4

  • prepared cardoon (about six 3” pieces)
  • 2-1/3 c. risotto rice (arborio or carnaroli)
  • 1 quart hot chicken or veggie broth
  • 2/3 c. dry white wine
  • 2 T. butter
  • 1 c. freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 T. olive oil
  1. Prepare cardoons (blanch in salt water, see other recipe). Once prepared, drain and blot dry on paper towels. Chop into bite-sized pieces. Heat olive oil in pan on low-medium heat. Add chopped garlic and cardoon to pan. Cook slowly on back burner - do not cook on high enough heat to brown garlic!
  2. Meanwhile, make risotto. Place hot broth in saucepan on a back burner and keep at a low simmer.
  3. Melt half the butter in a large heavy saucepan and add the onion. Cook gently for 10 minutes until onion is translucent, but not browned. Add the rice and stir until well-coated with the buttery onions and heated through. Pour in the wine and boil hard until it has reduced and almost disappeared.
  4. Turn down to low and begin adding the broth, one ladle at a time, stirring gently until each ladle has almost been absorbed by the rice. Cook this way until rice is tender and creamy, about 20 minutes. Taste and season well with salt and pepper. Stir in remaining butter and parmesan. Cover and let rest for a couple of minutes. Before serving, loosen risotto with a little more broth, then ladle onto plates.
  5. Top with garlicky cardoons and a little more grated parmesan. Enjoy!


kevin said...

hey dont forget that work area and hands must be cleaned after you prep the cardoons!!! I learned this the hard way last year. The raw plant is extremely bitter and can cause digestive problems in some...I dont know how the Italians eat this raw...I am sure they do it with style though!
cleaning up with vinigar diluted in some water is best and will keep the rest of the ingrediants free from contamination. Dont touch your eyes or mouth either....or you'll be sorry! ;)
Otherwise, good on ya for the cardoons, I still have fond memories of last years gratin...or and I am very jealous you guys are heading to Italy :p

mara said...

Great points, Kevin! It's true that the raw cardoon is very bitter and can possibly stain with the tannins it has. I have not ever had too much of a problem with that, though you're right about not touching your lips is a good idea - pretty bitter! Yep, leaving for Italy in a little over a week. YAY!!!

erika winkler said...

my husband is italian and his grandmother always made cardoons for christmas, seeing as how this year we cant get home to them i have decided to try to make them at homethis year.(i have never had them) was wondering if you had any ideas on where to buy them as i cant seem to find them in the troy,ny area.