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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Cardoon Gratin: Recipe

Have you seen these stalks before? If you haven't, you're not alone. I picked them up while shopping at the Ferry Plaza farmer's market on Saturday with the gang of four. We each gravitated towards something exotic--for me it was fragrant lemon basil and cardoons. Cardoons are so unusual you won't even find a recipe for them on, in fact, if you want to find a recipe for them, look towards Italy where they are most popular. That weighty tome of Italian cooking, The Silver Spoon has no fewer than six recipes for cardoons.

Related to the artichoke, cardoons look more like overgrown celery but with a muted grayish tint. Not the healthiest of vegetables, they are low in calories, high in sodium and provide a fair amount of folic acid and magnesium and a bit of potassium. The main reason to eat cardoons is because they taste great. While they look like celery, they have the distinct flavor of artichoke hearts. I'm afraid the way I know to serve them does not enhance their nutritional value in the least. I smother them in bechamel sauce, top them with parmesan cheese and bake them till bubbly and positively unctuous.

A lot less bother than artichokes (which I also love), the main thing to remember to do when preparing them is to trim the ends and either to boil them for 45 minutes or use a vegetable peeler to remove the stringy fibers that make them tough to eat. Either way, cook them until tender. You could serve them with just a vinaigrette, but really, what fun would that be?

Cardoon Gratin
serves 3-4 as a side dish


1 bunch cardoons
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon flour
1 cup milk
pinch of nutmeg
salt to taste

1/4 cup parmesan cheese


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Trim the ends of the cardoons and peel the stringy fibers using a paring knife or vegetable peeler. Remove all leaves. Cut into 2 inch lengths and boil in a large pot of boiling salted water with lemon juice added. Cook for 30-45 minutes or until almost tender.

Make a bechamel sauce by heating the butter and flour in a small saucepan and cooking and whisking to remove lumps, until smooth and just beginning to smell toasty, though not brown. Add the milk and whisk vigorously. Cook until thick, about 5 minutes. Add the nutmeg and salt to taste.

In a greased baking dish place the cardoons in one layer. Top with the sauce and sprinkle on the cheese. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until bubbly.