What The Heck Is A Cardoon?

j0434164My father’s side of the family is Sicilian, and I have traveled pretty widely in Italy, but until last year’s Upper Meadows Farm CSA, I had never tasted a very common Italian vegetable, cardoons.

What, you say? Cardoons, which are part of the Week 2 distribution, are in the same plant family as artichokes–with cardoons being the somewhat ugly cousins. The stalks look like a crusty version of celery, the leaves make me think of Audrey (the man-eating plant in “Little Shop of Horrors”) and, when mature, the whole thing is topped off with a bright purple thistle.

What do you do with cardoons? Food & Wine magazine has a quick and easy recipe for fried cardoons. That was what I did last year because the recipe author’s daughter went to preschool with my older son and I had learned that Grace’s recipes were always well worth trying.

This year, I’m looking further afield. Saveur bathes cardoons in cream and gruyere for a gratin or combines them with celery and anchovies for a simple salad.  The Italian food section of the Web site About.com has a whole page of cardoon options, while its Moroccan food writer offers a Cardoon Tagine. In Spain, cardoons are often braised and served with an almond sauce. Mario Batali uses them in a light soup and also in a version of a traditional Italian vegetable custard. I also have to say I like this blogger’s simple idea for rolling the trimmed cardoons in chickpea flour before frying. And if you have a fondue pot left over from that 1970s food craze, you can re-purpose it and make a bagna cauda for your cardoons.

Happy eating.

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