The Noble Cardoon

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

  1. Place cream, stock, and bay leaf in a large saucepan and season with salt and pepper. Place cardoons into the cream mixture.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.

One of my favorite Italian restaurants is al di la in Park Slope Brooklyn, and that is the only restaurant where I have ever seen cardoons on the menu.

Minestrone with Pesto

Forget the diner cliché; this hearty soup deserves respect!

Minestra is Italian for thick soup and minestrone is a large or rich minestra.

There is no rule for making minestrone. The only secret…fresh vegetables.

 

Cauliflower, turnips, carrots and other fresh vegetables may be used in place of or in addition to the ingredients called for.

Recipe:
1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
1/4 lb. swiss chard
1/4 lb. spinach
2 small zucchini
2 medium white potatoes, peeled and diced
2 japanese eggplants, peeled and diced
2 cups tubetti pasta
2 cups cooked white beans
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

For the Pesto:
2 tbsp. pine nuts
1/2 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic
2 cups packed basil leaves
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. grated parmigianno-reggiano

  1. Soak mushrooms in 2 cups warm water until soft. Remove, rinse, chop and set aside. Pour mushroom water through a coffee filter and set aside. Wash chard and spinach. Trim and discard stalks from chard and stems from spinach. Chop leaves.
  2. Bring mushroom water and 6 cups salted water to boil in a large pot. Add mushrooms, chard, spinach, zucchini, potatoes, eggplant and olive oil. Return to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 1 hour.
  3. For pesto, pulse pine nuts and salt in a food processor until finely ground. Add garlic and basil and drizzle in olive oil. Add parmiggiano-reggiano and process into a smooth paste.
  4. Add pasta to soup. Cook pasta for about 10 minutes; add beans and cook 5 minutes longer. Stir in 2 tbsp. pesto, reserving the rest for another use, and season with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with additional grated parmiggiano-reggiano.

 

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Pan Fried Dumpling / Gyoza 餃子 / Pot Sticker 鍋


From Beijing to Bali my pantry is always stocked with Asian items, so there’s a good chance that whatever I feel like cooking will often have a Far East twist.

The past week found me filling wontons, pan-frying pork gyoza, boiling lobster dumplings, simmering miso soup and using edamame in several ways; I even blended tofu with strawberries and sugar for a refreshing dessert.

 

Today…it’s all about the Dumpling!

 

 

Here’s the shopping list:

Ground Pork or Chicken or Chopped Shrimp
Bok Choy or Cabbage (chopped)
Ginger, Garlic, Scallions, Onions (chopped)
Dumpling Wrappers
Soy Sauce
Chicken Stock
Egg Wash
Vegetable oil

 

What kind of wrapper should i use? Square or round??
Buy them both and notice the difference.
Traditionally, the round wrappers are made from just flour and water. They are a little thicker and are best used with heavier meat fillings.
The square wrappers are also called wonton skins; they have egg added making them thinner and more delicate. They are best suited for fried wontons, chicken dumplings or shu-mei. I often use them to make lobster or shrimp ravioli…they melt in your mouth!

There are over 50 wrappers in a package so you will get plenty of practice making dumplings.  If there are any wrappers left over you can just wrap them in plastic and store them in the freezer.

      

Making the Filling & Filling the Wrapper

  1. Cook the onions, ginger, garlic & bok choy in a pan until the onions begin to soften.
  2. Add some chopped scallions and soy sauce and reduce soy sauce to half. Set aside mixture to cool.  
  3. Add mixture to your ground meat of choice and mix well.  
  4. Lay out the wonton wrappers and place a small spoonfull in the center.
  5. Brush the edge of the wrapper with the egg wash, fold them over, pinch and seal.
Your dumplings are now ready for cooking.

You can boil them, steam them or pan fry them.

Pan Frying Technique:
Heat some oil in a wide, heavy frying pan over medium heat. Place 8 to 12 pot stickers in the pan and cook until the bottoms are brown. Pour in 1/3 cup of chicken stock or water and cover pan. Reduce heat to low and cook until all liquid is absorbed.

    
 
I like to add sesame seeds and chopped scallions right at the end. Transfer to plates and enjoy. For dipping you can use a classic mixture of soy, rice vinegar and chile. I added a little Sriracha to the dumplings at top of page.
          

As for all those extra dumplings you filled but never cooked…
Lay them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment and put them in the freezer. After they are frozen, transfer them to sealable containers and keep frozen until your next Asian craving!

“Old School” Stuffed Peppers


Recipe
:

6 large bell peppers
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 large cloves garlic, finely minced
2 pounds lean ground beef
2 cups soft bread crumbs
2 cups bread, softened in milk
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups tomato sauce
2 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano
Salt & pepper to taste

 
Cut the peppers in half lengthwise and remove the stems and seeds; set the peppers aside. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium low heat. Add the celery, onions and garlic. Add the ground beef and sauté together until the beef is completely cooked and the onions begin to soften. Add the bread crumbs, softened bread, 1/4 cup of the parmesan and parsley and season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Work the eggs into the stuffing. If more moisture is needed, add a little milk or broth to the stuffing mixture. Spoon a tablespoon of tomato sauce into each pepper then fill with the stuffing. Place them in a shallow baking dish greased with olive oil and a touch of tomato sauce. Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 30 minutes or until the bell peppers are tender. Spoon more tomato sauce over each stuffed pepper and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake 8 to 10 minutes longer.  Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and finish with more parmesan cheese. Serve!

Prosciutto & Cheese Bread

  

This bread is absolutely delicious. The fat from the prosciutto melts with the cheese directly into the bread creating a cheesy and salty goodness.

Recipe:

3 cups bread flour, more for dusting
1/2 pound prosciutto, chopped
1/2 pound provolone, chopped
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups water

  1. In a large bowl, mix the flour with the yeast and salt. Add the water and stir until blended (the dough will be very sticky). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for 12 to 24 hours in a warm spot.
  2. Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and lightly sprinkle the top with flour and some of the prosciutto and the provolone. Fold the dough over on itself several times, adding prosciutto and cheese between each fold. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a floured kitchen towel and let rest for 15 minutes.
  3. Divide the dough into 8 pieces and shape each piece into a ball. Generously sprinkle a baking pan with flour and corn meal and arrange the dough balls on the baking pan. Let the dough rise for 2 hours.
  4. Brush the dough with an egg and sprinkle with your favorite seed (sesame, poppy, fennel…).
  5. Bake for 30 minutes in a pre-heated 400 degree oven.

 

Feel free to get creative:

  • Add fresh herbs.
  • Substitute other cured pork products for prosciutto.
  • Use any cheese you like or any combination.
  • Eliminate the pork and cheese and use only rosemary for the best Rosemary Focaccia.
  • Vary the shapes and size of the bread to suit you.