Cardoons or carduni, as my father calls them, are a member of the thistle family, resembling celery stalks but with a flavor reminiscent of artichokes. Cardoons are only available from November to February and even then it would take a bit of effort to find some. It’s obscurity, combined with its high-maintenance preparation has deterred many people from even approaching them, but this noble thistle – which centuries ago was called the wealthy man’s treat – surely deserves some attention.
After separating the stalks, they must be thoroughly rinsed and then trimmed of all thorns and leaves. The indigestible stringy fibers are then shaved off with a vegetable peeler. The stalks are then roughly chopped and allowed to soak in acidulated water (water with lemon or vinegar). Lastly, they are parboiled to take away some of its bitterness.
Cardoon Gratin Recipe:
3 cups heavy cream
1 cup chicken stock
1 bay leaf
3 lbs. cardoons, prepared as above
1 cup grated fontina
- Place cream, stock, and bay leaf in a large saucepan and season with salt and pepper. Place cardoons into the cream mixture.
- Bring cream mixture to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until cardoon are tender, about 30 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer cardoon pieces to individual gratin dishes (or a 1-quart baking dish).
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Reduce cream mixture to about 3/4 cup over medium heat. Discard the bay leaf and pour the sauce over the gratin dishes, sprinkle the fontina on top, and bake until golden and bubbly, about 30 minutes.