Wild, pokey plants are having a season right now. Artichokes are heaped in tri-stalked bundles, looking like one of the building materials the Three Little Pigs might have attempted to use for a home. Purple-flowered Rosemary and wild thyme are also being sold in bunches, cut from their stiff, old-growth stems. Another vegetable lying around in heaps, one I have turned a wary eye toward all these years I have lived here, is the cardoon. It is always described as looking like a relative of both celery and rhubarb when in fact, it is a first cousin to the artichoke. It is a thistle, with a flavor between an artichoke and celery. Cardoons are generally a little homely and off-putting in appearance, in my view, but this weekend, my corner green-grocer had long, elegant stalks, and I decided this was my moment to figure them out.
Cardoons are stringier than either celery or rhubarb and therefore, must be peeled. The truth is, cardoons require quite a lot of preparation. I found that my wide 2″ vegetable peeler worked best, yet it clogged with fibers every couple of passes, requiring me to clean it out before beginning again. I recommend you put on a good audio book or podcast before beginning this task.
Though they are a humble food, practically a weed, the amount of preparation they require motivated me to invest some serious cooking technique to elevate them as much as I could. I used Alice Waters’ recipe for Cardoon Gratin with Bechamel . She offers an excellent strategy for lightening the traditional bechamel sauce: “…save the poaching liquid from the vegetables, then use it in place of 1/2 of the required milk in the recipe,” (Waters, 2013). This method will simultaneously boost the vitamins and decrease the fat.
Before beginning to peel the cardoons, prepare a large bowl of water into which you have reamed 1 large lemon. As you process approximately 4 large cardoons, cut them into 4″ lengths, then place them into the water to keep them from turning brown.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the cardoons for approximately 12 minutes or until they are tender, but still have a little firmness. Lift the cardoons from the water and set aside to cool. Reserve the cooking liquid. Cut the cooled cardoons into 3/4″ diagonal slices and set aside.
Now, make a light bechamel. In a small heavy-bottomed pot, over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter.
Stir in 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour.
Cook the roux for a few minutes without browning. Slowly, whisk in 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup cardoon cooking liquid, prewarmed.
To avoid lumps, whisk in each addition of liquid completely before adding the next. Bring slowly to a boil, stirring all the time. Turn down to a bare simmer and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the sauce from sticking. Add additional cardoon cooking liquid if the sauce becomes too thick. Finish with a pinch of cayenne and some freshly grated nutmeg. Thoroughly mix the cardoons into the sauce.
Butter a gratin dish and pour in cardoon mixture. Top with grated cheese. You could use parmesan, but if you have French cheese, this will take the gratin to the next level. I used a combination of Emmental, Beaumont, and Abondonce. Bake in a 375 degree oven until bubbling hot and cheese is lightly browned.
Waters, Alice. “Cardoon Gratin with Bechamel and Parmesan Cheese.” The Art of Simple Food II. New York: Clarkson Potter, 2013. 108. Print.
4 thoughts on “Cardoons”
Cardoon is tedious to prepare, but I find it’s a nice addition to couscous this time of year, as well as winter vegetable stew. I love it’s artichokey taste! I’m a big fan of anything topped with bechamel, so I’ll be sure to try this recipe.
Christine, have you found any method to make them easier to process?
This gratin looks beautiful! I’ve never met a cardoon, and I don’t think I’ve tasted one. But if they’re artichokey, I would love them!
Mimi, where do you live? Would you find these in your market?