I feel like the champion of the unloved vegetable. First it was rhapsodies about the parsnip, or the beauty and versatility of the pomegranate, and now I’m off on a cardoon tangent. I’ve been like a kid waiting for Christmas, waiting to spot the first cardoons in the market. This is surely the sign of a true obsession, I wonder if I should worry??
The cardoon looks like a very strange celery bunch, but with longer, whiter and thicker stalks. The cardoon bunches that are available here are about 24 to 36 inches long. It has a reputation for being difficult to cook, but once you realize that you’ve got to cook it at least twice to tame the bitterness, it’s all good. The cardoon is related to the globe artichoke, and it has a similar flavor, as well as the capacity to turn your hands black, just like handling raw artichokes. What the heck is in these plants that stains your fingers so badly? The whole ‘choke season my hands look like I was out digging ditches with just my fingertips!
The first step to cooking the cardoon is to clean them. This is done be stripping off the strings or ribs. It’s not too time consuming, start at one end or the other, and give it a zip. Once you get into it, its fun. OK, I get my kicks in strange ways. I like to pop the pits out of olives, too.
Working quickly, chop the stripped cardoon stalk into 1-inch chunks, and place them in acidulated water, just as you would with an artichoke. (Acidulated means some acid, like lemon juice or vinegar, but you sound really cool when you say acidulated….)
Drop the chunks into boiling salted water until the pieces are soft. Now, in Italy, that takes about 10 to 15 minutes, I’ve friends in the States say that this can take 45 minutes. Apparently there are quite a few different types of cardoons; we get a white or silvery type here in Umbria.
When they are soft, drain the cardoons.
Now you have some choices: you can just add some butter and cheese and throw them in the oven for a few minutes to get the cheese to melt.
That’s what I did last night. Or you can batter dip them and fry them and eat them, or further roast the fried bits. The batter sort of melts into the cheese and it’s a gooey, delicious mess. You can add them to soups, make a risotto, let your imagination run wild. But, if you go to a farmer’s market, start asking for cardoons, maybe they can make a comeback.