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.

Roast Filet Mignon

For a holiday gathering or a comforting winter dinner with the people you love; whole roasted beef tenderloin is the perfect centerpiece.

  

Recipe:

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 (5 to 10 pound) beef tenderloin, trimmed of fat
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Combine all the ingredients and rub all over the meat. Let the meat marinate for about an hour. DO NOT REFRIGERATE.
  3. Remove the meat from the marinade, pat it dry (removing excess moisture but allowing the seasonings to adhere) and transfer to a warm roasting pan. Roast for 20 minutes, then check temperature with a meat thermometer; 125 degrees is medium-rare. Remove the roast from the oven and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Let the meat rest for 10 minutes covered loosely with aluminum foil.
  5. Serve with your favorite sauces and side dishes. As pictured, I cut the filet into 1/2 inch thick slices and served it with roasted potatoes and arugula salad. Enjoy!

Giovanni Cucullo in his Garden


Every year, my father and I plant a beautiful herb and vegetable garden, and every summer, it is quite exciting to watch an empty back yard erupt into a plentiful harvest.

Anyone who visits is quickly transported to Italy. Whether they are wandering among a hundred tomato plants, sitting under a canopy of 30-year-old grape vines or just kicking back with a glass of red, they have that spiritual sense that they are being allowed to take part in a tradition that I consider timeless, priceless and very personal.

 

Tomatoes are always the dominant plant, and in many sizes and varieties; but we also grow, cucuzza (Italian squash), green beans, Anaheim chiles, Tabasco peppers, eggplant, rosemary and basil, and in August, the three fig trees and one peach tree must be picked each day before the squirrels find out how tasty they are.

    

Each new season brings for me a new level of appreciation for gardening and fresh produce, but more importantly, every flower that blossoms and every fruit which ripens by my hand reminds me of everything my parents have ever taught me and every tradition I plan to carry forth.

      

Spaghetti & Fettucine

Giovanni Cucullo

Tomatoes, Mascarpone, Butter & Thyme

 

After making my fresh pasta, I break out my Kitchen Aid which has a very handy pasta attachment. I cut my pasta dough into 3 equal pieces and press them out to 1/4 thick rectangles. I run them through the kitchen aid rollers, adjusting to a thinner setting a bit at a time until i have 3 long sheets of pasta, being careful to keep the pasta well-floured. I replace the rollers with the spaghetti cutter attachment and run the pasta sheets through the cutter and voilà!…spaghetti.

I follow the same procedure when I make fettucine, using the fettucine attachment, of course:

I like to dry some of the fettucine for later use.
Fresh pasta should be refrigerated and used within 3 days, but you can dry the pasta and store it in sealed containers to keep for months.

There is nothing like Freshly Made Pasta. I often enjoy it in its simplest form with fresh tomatoes and basil with a touch of butter.