I once followed a thread devoted to Cardoons on the Rec.Food.Cooking newsgroup, in which a number of people said they gathered them wild, some from around the Golden Gate Bridge. I wasn't surprised to read this, because when I was in the US in the winter of 1996, preparing my translation of Pellegrino Artusi's La Scienza in Cucina for publication there wasn't a single cardoon to be found in any of the Philadelphia supermarkets, despite the weather's being perfect for them. Since then I have found them on a couple of supermarket sites, for example Wegman's, which means that they are being introduced to the American market (I assume, given their popularity in northern Italy, especially Piemonte, that they're readily available in the rest of Europe).
In the course of the thread a number of people asked what they are; Elizabeth Faulkner (an RFC regular) described them as "celery on steroids." Nice, and manages to convey the vegetable's slightly menacing air as well -- they're 18 to 22 inch long, pale green to white stalks ribbed like celery, but with sharper edges. Some are straight but the most sought after are curved, a feature that results in their being nicknamed gobbi, or hunchbacks. From a botanical standpoint they're close cousins of the artichoke, but do not produce flowers -- what one eats is the stalk, whose preparation requires a certain amount of care. Cardoons are quite fibrous; the fibers run lengthwise, like those in celery stalks, and must be stripped out. Once they have been cut they darken quickly (like artichokes) unless put in lightly acidulated water.
There wasn't much in the R.F.C thread (at least the part I saw) about what to do with cardoons once you have them. They can be eaten either raw (especially as an antipasto) or cooked. In terms of seasoning, they're rather sweet, a characteristic that is generally balanced through the use of anchovies, cheese, or white sauces.
A last, and very important point: Cardoons are a winter vegetable. Though they continue to grow into the spring, spring warmth makes them unpleasantly bitter, and they can also become woody.
- Cardoon recipes on site
- Cardata alla Torinese
A tasty cardoon-based antipasto to keep winter at bay.
- Cardi di Re Alberto
A zesty winter antipasto, and the King's favorite.
- Cardi Fritti
Fried cardoons are simple and delicate, and go well with a stew.
- Sformato di Cardi
An delicate winter timbale made with cardoons, from Pellegrino Artusi.
- Cardi Stufati
Cardoons stewed, with a tasty egg and lemon sauce.
- Cardi con la Balsamella
Cardoons stewed, and seasoned with white sauce. Simple and quick.
- Minestra di Cardi in Compagnia
A cardoon-based soup from the Marche that's rather similar to minestra maritata.
- Fritto Misto di Pesce, Carciofi e Cardi
Mixed Fried Fish with Artichokes and Cardoons.
- Cardata alla Torinese
ASPARAGUS | EGGPLANT | BELL PEPPERS
CARDOONS | TOMATOES | BEANS & OTHER LEGUMES
RED RADICCHIO | MUSHROOMS | ARTICHOKES | FARRO
BULB FENNEL | SALADS & GREENS | ZUCCHINI & SQUASH
CHESTNUTS | CABBAGE | PIES, TORTES & MORE
POTATOES & ROOT VEGETABLES | MISCELLANEOUS
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