A friend of mine works at a well known local farm and she’s mentioned cardoons to me before, and although I had heard of them I wasn’t even sure what they looked like. I knew that they were a winter vegetable and for some reason I associated them with Italian cooking. Last week I was at a small stand at my farmers’ market when I heard the vendor talking to a customer about cardoons. There they were and she was selling them for 50 cents a bunch so I figured I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try them.
Although they resemble a large head of celery, their taste is closer to artichoke and the cardoon is actually part of the artichoke family. I knew that I could check my cookbook collection to decide what to do with them, but I figured I should get my advice from the source-the farmer that grew them! Immediately the wife in this farming duo told me that there’s quite a bit of preparation involved. Her husband, who is the cook, jumped in and gave me his advice on what to do.
The leaves and spiny edges have to be trimmed off and then, much like celery, the stalks have to be “stringed”. He told me that this was easier to do after they are cooked. He advised me to boil them until tender, peel them and then bread and deep fry. When I started checking in various Italian cookbooks they too suggested deep frying and also using the cooked cardoons in a gratin. I opted to try the gratin and after boiling them, tossed with heavy cream, topped with parmeggiano reggiano and popped them in the oven.
I served these with roasted pork tenderloin and they were the perfect accompaniment. The flavor did resemble artichoke, although the taste and texture was lighter and a little more bitter. Next time I’ll try them deep fried. I’m now officially a fan of cardoons!
One more thing-my cardoon farmer is from Italy and visiting his stand I now have an opportunity to practice my Italian!