The Proof is in the Gratin
“The old gray donkey, Eeyore, stood by himself in a thistly corner of the forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things. Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, “Why?” and sometimes he thought, “Wherefore?” and sometimes he thought, “Inasmuch as which?”
On September 19th, 1832, biologist Charles Darwin passed through the remote Argentine settlement of Guardia del Monte, and noted that the village marked the southernmost limit of the cardoon infestation on the pampas. Cardoon, or Cynara cardunculus, is a big thistle.
Cardoon is a sister to the artichoke, but instead of eating the immature flower bud, we eat the petiole, or leaf stalk. Cardoons make flower buds that look like small, spiny artichokes, but you’d have to be hungry to make eating them worth the pain. A number of different cardoon varieties that have been developed by farmers, and most of them have been selected to have few, if any spines. The kind of cardoon I grow is an Italian breed called Gobbo di Nizza. Massed over hundreds of thousands of acres, the way that
Cardoons evolved around the rim of the
The word for thistle in Latin is cardo. The word for “big thistle” became cardone in Italian and chardon in French. In
When the Spanish conquistadores came to
copyright 2008 Andy Griffin
*Andy tweaked this piece just a little from the one we ran in our CSA newsletter last week.
photo of Red Swiss Chard, it sort of shows it’s thicker stalks
Photoessay of making cardoon gratin with Martin in our kitchen
Martin’s Cardoon Potato Gratin
8-10 stalks Cardoon
2-3 medium potatoes
8 oz grated parmesan cheese
1 pint half and half or cream
S & P to taste
Blanch the cardoon stalks in water that has a splash of vinegar or lemon juice until medium tender. You can peel them if you like. We don’t. Cut the cardoon stalks in 1/4 inch crescents, across the grain, like you would celery. Peel the potatoes. Cut the potatoes into batons, about like a french fry. Toss the cut, blanched cardoon stalks with the potatoes directly in a gratin dish. Reserve a handful of the cheese for the top and toss the rest of the cheese with the cardoon/potato mixture. Add the pint of half and half (or cream if using.) Season with salt and pepper.
Bake in a 425 oven 40 minutes or so: until golden brown and the potatoes are all the way through.
Andy and I had a great little cardoon dish a few years back at the upstairs Chez Panisse and loved it. Here’s Russ’ recipe:
Russell Moore’s Cardoon Recipe
Russ cooked upstairs at CP for 20 years, now he’s about to open Camino! we can’t wait.
Peel stalks of cardoons to get the bitter outer skin off. Boil in salted water until tender, that could be from 5-20 minutes. (I would cut the stalks in half so they’d fit my pans. -jw)
Slice cooked stalks on the diagonal (like you would celery) then dress with a vinaigrette. For this dish the vinaigrette has a bit of anchovy, garlic, lemon and a small splash of red wine vinegar, and olive oil too of course. (Julia’s hint: one basic formula for vinaigrette I’ve read includes 3 parts oil to 1 part acid: lemon juice or vinegar)
They serve the cardoons this way room temperature with some hardboiled egg: either chopped or in wedges. Russ said this dish benefits from a bit of fat served with it and he likes the hard cooked egg for that contrast.
Cardoon thoughts and a recipe from Chef Andrew Cohen:
Cardoon is a vegetable like artichoke in that it oxidises and discolors. Chefs will usually toss it into acidulated water (water with lemon juice) to keep it from discoloring.
When thinking of cardoon, keep the flavor of artichokes in your mind when planning the dish.
Chef Andrew’s simplest Cardoon-Pasta preparation:
Slice and blanch cardoon. Saute onions and garlic and toss with pasta. Grate some parmesan cheese. This could benefit from some green olives as well.
Here’s an idea I picked up from a book of Mid-east cookery. This is based on a lamb dish with cardoon. Cut cardoon into 2″ long pieces and blanch in salted water. Saute onions and garlic with turmeric, paprika, parsley, and coriander. Add in cardoon and a handful of cracked green olives or oil cured black olives. Give a toss, and add a couple chopped tomatoes and some water( a couple cups). If you have some mid-east style preserved lemons, cut one up into largish pieces(1″ or so) and toss that in as well. Cook for a 1/2 hour to soften vegetables and integrate flavors. This could take peppers(hot or sweet) or eggplant as well. Simmer cardoons cut into batons (3″x1/4″) until tender and layer into a gratin dish that has been rubbed with a garlic clove and lightly oiled. Layer with parmesan or gruyere, then pour in cream over all. Bake until golden and bubbly.
Hey great post Andy.
I arrived at your site by searching for Agretti so it is my first visit and I love the article on Cardoon. They are a great food. Here in Southern France they are a traditional Christmas eve supper dish. There are a number of local ways to cook them including stewing in tons of olive oil. I posted a recipe for such a dish a while back, if you want to check it out. http://www.masdudiable.com/A55C37/mdd.nsf/dx/Cardons-aux-Anchois.htm
I look forward to visiting again.
Hi Laura: I could eat the phone book if it was stewed with enough fine olive oil. One thing I love about cardoons, besides the flavor, is that the harvest comes in late winter/early spring when we really need the cash flow on the farm.
I have been growing this plant without much interest since November in Berkeley, CA. I thought it was an artichoke and lost interest when I realized it wasn’t
One day I noticed that I had a vibrant, beautiful plant, and I luckily still had the name stake. I’m excited about trying some of your recipes! thanks for the great post.