Friday, June 02, 2006

Cardoons (Cynara cardunculus)

Cardoons (Cynara cardunculus) are a winter staple here in northern California, and figure prominently in Italian dishes like Bagna Cauda. Of the ten recipes for cardoons over at Food Network, nine are associated with Mario Batali.

Until a recent meal at Aziza, I had somehow managed to go fifteen years in the bay area without having eaten a single bite of cardoon. There they served a pungent salad of cardoon with crushed garlic, olive oil, and meyer lemon.

Reproducing this salad at home was more involved than it might sound. To prepare cardoons you have to first remove the leaves, and then the spines that that dot the outer most rib on either side of the stalk. Once you've done this, you need to remove the ribs off the back of the stalk, using a vegetable peeler. To get the stalks tender, you also need to boil them for thirty-five (35) minutes.

According to the folks at Tip Top Farms, cardoons are closely related to and taste a lot like artichokes - I don't find this to be the case. There are portions of the plant that smell like an artichoke smells, but after you've variously peeled, boiled, and chilled, they don't taste like much of anything. Meaty celery maybe.

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