The cardoon is a plant that looks like a big bunch of celery. It has a grayish-white-green flesh that is edible and it has a very refined and seductive taste. It is native to the Mediterranean, where it was domesticated in ancient times.
Today cardoons are a much sought-after vegetable by Sicilians, Italians, French, Spanish and gourmets all over the world. In season they are widely consumed.
Cardoons can be eaten boiled and dressed with olive oil and lemon juice or dipped in an egg and flour batter or simply lightly coated with flour and fried.
While the flower buds can be eaten much as the artichoke, more often the stems are eaten after being braised in cooking liquid. Battered and fried, the stems are also traditionally served at St. Joseph's altars in New Orleans.
The stalks, which look like large celery stalks, can be served steamed or braised. They have an artichoke-like flavor. Cardoons are available in the market only in the winter months. In the U.S.A., it is rarely found in stores, but available in farmers' markets, where it is available through May, June, and July. The main root can also be boiled and served cold. Acclaimed chef Mario Batali calls the cardoon one of his favorite vegetables and says they have a "very sexy flavor."
Cardoons are also an ingredient in one of the national dishes of Spain, the Cocido madrileño, a slow-cooking, one-pot, meat and vegetable dinner simmered in broth.
In the Abruzzi region of Italy, Christmas lunch is traditionally started with a soup of cardoons cooked in chicken broth with little meatballs (lamb or more rarely, beef), sometimes with the further addition of egg (which scrambles in the hot soup - called Stracciatella) or fried chopped liver and heart.
When buying the cardoons choose fresh and crispy, select small bunches- this is very important- and avoid vegetables whose leaves are discolored or damaged by refrigeration or by insects. Usually two small bunches weighing about 3 lb. serve 6 to 8.
The cardoons require a detailed preparation, because the strings from the stalks must be removed and needs to follow certain exact procedures. The preliminaries and cleaning of the cardoons may appear as a complicated and boring task: on the contrary it is easy and it can be done in a short amount of time:
- When preparing cardoons for cooking, wear utility gloves to avoid staining your hands. Prepare a large bowl with enough water to soak the cardoons after they are trimmed, add to it 1 full tablespoon of salt and the juice of a lemon to prevent discoloration.
- Cut and discard about 1 inch from the top and trim the base far up enough so that the stalks can be easily separated.
- Using a potato peeler, remove the strings from the stalks, cut cardoons across into 2 inches pieces and place in the basin with the acidulated and salted water.
Keep the cardoons in the salt and lemon juice solution from 6 to 12 hours.
Cooking of CardoonEdit
- Drain and rinse the cardoons. Place them in a large pot, add 1 and ½ tablespoons of salt cover with cold water 2 inches above the cardoons and bring to a boil.
- Lower heat and simmer uncovered. After 45 minutes check if they are tender or cook for an additional 15 minutes to ½ hour until they are ready.
- Place the cardoons in a colander to drain and cool. Shake a few times to eliminate excess water.