Dude, Where's My Cardoon?

Cardoon is a vegetable with a long history, domesticated and cultivated over two thousand years ago, beloved by ancient Romans and yet a stranger to most contemporary American kitchens. Although most domestic, commercial crops are grown in California, cardoon seems to appear with regularity each autumn here in Hudson River Valley markets and grocery stores. This prickly veggie requires a bit of prep before actually cooking but its deep, earthy flavor, best described as "amped-up artichoke", is well worth your minor effort. Before using in any recipe you'll need to break apart the clump, just as you would a bunch of celery. Remove and discard any leaves; they're bitter, tough and contain tiny spikes. Now, with a vegetable peeler, peel and strip away the outer edges of each stalk, lengthwise. trim away the very bottom of each stalk and cut into pieces no longer than 2" or so. As you chop the cardoon, immediately drop the pieces in to a large bowl of acidulated water, basically, water to which a couple of tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice has been added. Par-boil the cardoon in the acidulated water for 8 minutes before draining and rinsing well. Now you're ready to proceed in any matter you like. Italians love it breaded and deep-fried or braised with stock, tomatoes and a hint of garlic.

At Cafe Drake HRV, we baked one prepared and chopped bunch of cardoon as a sort of gratin. Here's how: place the prepared (trimmed, cleaned, peeled and parboiled) cardoon in a gratin dish along with salt, pepper and 1 cup of vegetable or chicken stock. Dot the entire dish with tiny pieces of butter. Cover tightly and bake for 30 minutes in a 425 degrees F. oven. Check halfway through cooking time and, if needed, add a few tablespoons more of stock or water. Remove from oven, uncover and lightly sprinkle with bread crumbs and garlic powder. Drizzle with olive oil and return to the oven, still uncovered, for 10 more minutes or until bread crumbs are golden brown and toasted. The cardoon should be tender to the bite but not mushy. Taste for seasoning and serve hot or warm.


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