Thursday, January 28, 2016

The secret to making cardoons tender and sweet, a quick and easy fall recipe

“What is this?” asked the puzzled cashier at Publix holding up the cardoon I had found in the produce section.  “Is it a kind of celery?” she asked.  “Actually,” I replied, “it’s in the artichoke family”.  In fact, cardoons taste very much like the best part of an artichoke.  They are typically a late fall vegetable, and usually turn up around this time in our supermarket.  I remember my mother used to make them when I was growing up.  I was actually not very fond of them because they had a slightly bitter flavor.  Of course, most children won’t like anything remotely bitter, but I’ve discovered how to eliminate that bitterness, and our kids, who love artichokes, also love cardoons.

First, choose the lightest colored cardoon, the greener it is, the more likely it will be bitter.  Secondly, peel the back of the stalks before cooking them. Be careful, because a cardoon is a thistle, and just like an artichoke it has thorns, albeit quite small.  They are located on the edges of the stalks and need to be trimmed.  Also, cardoons need to boil 30-40 minutes until very tender.

Once cooked, they can be gratinéed, as in the recipe below, or simply dressed with some salt, olive oil, and red wine vinegar and served cold.

Gratinéed Cardoons

From How to Cook Italian by Giuliano Hazan
Preparation time:  15 minutes
Total time from start to finish:  45 minutes
Serves 6 as a side dish
1 cardoon
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1.  Fill a pot with at least 6 quarts of water, place over high heat and bring to a boil.
2.  Separate the stalks of the cardoon from the heart and trim away any leaves.  Cut off a sliver from the top and bottom of each stalk.  Use a vegetable peeler to peel the backs of the stalks to remove the outer layer of skin and any tough strings.  Trim the heart so only the white inner part remains.  Cut the stalks into 6-inch long pieces and rinse in cold water.
3.  Add 1 tablespoon of salt to the boiling water and put in the cardoon.  Cover the pot and boil until tender, 30-35 minutes.
4.  Preheat oven to 425° on the convection setting, or to 450° on regular bake.
5.  Drain the cardoon and place in a baking dish in a single layer.  Season with salt dot with the butter, and sprinkle the Parmigiano-Reggiano on top.  Bake until the cheese melts and just begins to brown, 10-15 minutes.  Serve hot.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

cardoon... what is it, how to choose, how to prep...

what is it?
 Native to southern Europe and North Africa, cardoons (Cynara cardunculus) are perennial plants with fleshy, edible stalks that can grow up to 6 feet tall. They produce silvery-green leaves and flower buds that are similar to those of an artichoke, though they’re usually not eaten. These buds bloom into large purple thistle-like flowers, which can provide a striking element in garden design.
how to choose:
 Cardoons grow in bunches, like celery, and should have wide, plump, gray-green stalks. Choose bunches with plenty of inner stalks, which will be more tender than those on the outside. Refrigerate cardoons in a plastic bag for up to two weeks
how to prep:
 Begin by separating the cardoon bunch into stalks; discard any tough outer stalks or narrow, leafy ones from the center. Use a paring knife to trim away spines and leaves and to shave off the inedible fibrous exterior from each stalk. If you don’t plan to use the peeled cardoons immediately, keep them in acidulated water (a mixture of water and an acid, such as lemon juice or vinegar) to prevent discoloration.

 Parboiling trimmed cardoons before using other cooking methods will reduce their bitter flavor and make them more tender. Parboiled cardoons can be sautéed, added to creamy gratins, braised with herbs, puréed, grilled, or lightly battered and deep-fried. You can also toss them with a vinaigrette or try them dipped in bagna cauda, an Italian sauce made with cooked anchovies and garlic. Cardoons pair well with béchamel, truffles, and truffle oil and are complemented by cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano and fontina. 
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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Cardoon Cooking

Article 1: How to cook cardoons

Cardoons look like prehistoric celery and taste like artichoke hearts (the two aren't related)

Cardoon, or cardoni, has an artichoke like flavor and is used in Italian cousin, a classically Italian vegetable

If you've ever come across them at the market and walked on by because you weren't sure what to do with them, think again: when cooked properly, cardoons are tender, earthy, and satisfying.

A cardoon, which is essentially a giant thistle, looks like a bunch of oversized, beat-up celery stalks. The stalks happen to be a naturally occurring form from the same species as the globe artichoke. Cardoons are typically more of a Winter vegetable, but they also grow well through May, June, and July. The Mediterranean vegetable is hard to find in grocery stores, but can be located at farmers markets.

If you're new to cooking cardoons, know that they require a bit of special care to prepare for cooking. Long fibers run down the stalks that must be removed, which can be done with a vegetable peeler. Like artichokes, cardoons turn brown when exposed to air, so you must dunk them in lemon water while you wait to cook them.

They can also be braised as a side dish, cooked and pureed into a spread, breaded and fried, or even baked with béchamel sauce. Have you ever tried cardoons?

Article 2: Cooking Cardoons

Cardoons (Cynara cardunculus), are thistle-like plants that share a species with globe artichoke. Both are in the Asteraceae family, along with the herbs arnica, burdock, boneset, calendula, chamomile, cronewort (mugwort), coltsfoot, dandelion, echinacea, elecampane, feverfew, gravel root, grindelia, liferoot, milk thistle, tansy, yarrow, valerian, wormwood, and wild lettuce. The family also contains the foods sunflower seedslettuceendive, and sun chokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes). And it contains the decorative flowers asters, chrysanthemums, dahlias, bachelor’s buttons, daisies, cosmos, coneflowers, goldenrods, sunflowers, and zinnias. It is the naturally occurring form of the same species as the globe artichoke, and has many cultivated varieties.

Cardoons are native to the western and central Mediterranean region, and people have eaten them for a long time. Wild cardoon is the likely ancestor of both cardoons and artichokes. Gardeners who selected for large, non-spiny heads produced artichokes and gardeners who selected for non-spiny, large-stalked, tender leaves produced leafy cardoons. Roman gardeners were likely the first to grow cardoons. Romans dipped tender, young cardoon stems in warm olive oil and ate them raw. They baked, steamed, or fried the bigger stems. In his treatise, De re rustica, the Roman agricultural theorist Columella (4–ca. 70 AD) noted that the dried stamens of cardoons were used as a vegetarian rennet to coagulate milk into cheese. Pliny (23–79 AD) wrote that cardoons were cultivated for their medicinal value, and the leaves in particular have been used in traditional medicine for chronic liver and gall bladder diseases, jaundice, hepatitis, arteriosclerosis, type-2 diabetes in its early stages, and as a diuretic as well as a digestive aid. They can help disperse stones in the internal organs and are believed to be good for rheumatism.

Cardoons expanded north with the Roman Empire as far as the climate permitted. Cardoons, like artichokes, are frost-tender, so they never became established in Britannia or northern Gaul, but they were popular in warmer regions. To this day, cardoons are enjoyed in Spain, southern France, and northern Italy. Cardoon rennet cheeses were made by shepherds high in the Iberian mountain range now known as the Serra da Estrela. Over subsequent generations, cardoon cheese production spread through southern Portugal and into western Spain, where the technique is still used today.

The flavor of mature cardoon stalks was bitter, but when blanched, it became milder than that of artichoke. Its cultivation was also very labor-intensive: “Towards the middle of October, the plants will be large enough, and ready for blanching. This is done on a dry day, by first gathering up all the leaves closelv round the centre, and in that position binding them together with strands of mat or twigs. This done, each plant is earthed up in the manner of celery, so that the points of the highest leaves are only exposed at top. In two or three weeks the leaf-stalks will be sufficiently blanched.”–Charles Frederick Partington, The British Cyclopædia of Natural History (London, 1825). Because the plants grew four to six feet tall, compacting earthen mounds around the stalks required substantial digging and shaping. Because the leaf stalks, like those of other thistles, had many thorns, tying them into a bunch could be treacherous. Depending upon the variety planted, the cardoons had to be in soil four to five weeks in order to be properly blanched and tenderized, but it also had to be harvested before the first frost, so timing had to be precise.

The word for thistle in Latin is cardo. The word for “big thistle” is cardone in Italian and chardon in French. Swiss cooks wanted to prepare cardoons, but Switzerland is too cold for cardoons to grow. Farmers bred beet greens, Beta vulgaris, into a more cold-tolerant plant with a fat, white, succulent, mild-flavored stalk that could be prepared like chardon. This vegetable became known as chardon Suisse in French and “Swiss chard” or chard in English.

Spanish explorers brought cardoons to South America. The first cattle were introduced into Argentina in 1549; they reached the Pampas in the 1580s and found a very favorable habitat for expansion. Their hooves destroyed the native turf, allowing feral cardoon seeds to germinate. Cattle dung fertilized the soil, and the cardoon patches became thistle jungles. The cardoons lost their domestic traits and reverted to their original thorny forms. The feral cattle could also take cover in the feral cardoon forests to avoid domestication and slaughtered. They moved southwards towards Patagonia where natural selection and tough environmental constraints shaped them into a new variety, the “Creole” breed.

By the 18th century, Quakers had introduced cardoons to North America. They were among the largest plants grown in North America prior to the rise of industrial agriculture.
On September 19th, 1832, biologist Charles Darwin visited the remote Argentine settlement of Guardia del Monte, and noted that the village marked the southernmost limit of the cardoon infestation on the pampas. Darwin noted patches where cardoons stood as high as a horse’s back in stands that covered hundreds of square miles.

In North America, because cardoons preferred warmer climates and richer soils, they were mainly grown by southern farmers, but sold in northern cities from the 1850s to the First World War. Grown for the blanched mid-rib of the leaf, they became one of the fancy vegetables found on hotel menus in major urban centers, where celebrity chefs prepared them in a range of dishes during fall and winter.

Cardoons are very low-calorie vegetable; they provide just 22 calories per 100 grams. They contain unique health-benefiting phytochemicals, including antioxidants, mineralsfiber, and vitamins.

Cardoons can:
  1. Promote cardiovascular health. Cardoons are an excellent source of potassium and magnesium and a good source of sodium and calciumPotassium regulates muscle contraction, including heart rythym and lowers blood pressure by counteracting the detrimental effects of sodium and regulating fluid balance. Magnesium helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, keeps heart rhythm steady, and promotes normal blood pressure. Sodium controls blood pressure and volume and helps muscles and nerves to work properly. Calcium supports vascular contraction and dilation. The fiber in cardoons also helps remove bile salts from your body. When your body replaces these salts, it breaks down cholesterol to do so.  Cynarin and sesquiterpene-lactones, two bitter substances in cardoons, can reduce cholesterol by inhibiting its synthesis and increasing its excretion in the bile. Cynarin can also improve liver and gall bladder functions, and stimulates the secretion of digestive juices.
  2. Build strong muscles and bones. The potassium in cardoons regulates muscle contraction; stores carbohydrates for muscles to use as fuel, and promotes regular muscle growth; and maintains the density and strength of bones by decreasing urinary calcium loss. Magnesium helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function, keeps bones strong, and is involved in energy metabolism and protein synthesis. Sodium helps muscles work properly. Calcium supports bone structure and muscle function. Cardoons are a good source of manganese, which facilitates protein and carbohydrate metabolism and formation of bone.
  3. Fight free radicals. Cardoons are a good source of manganese, which is a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Cardoon stalks contain numerous phytochemicals such as luteolin, silymarin, caffeic acid, ferulic acid, and dicaffeoyl-quinic acids, which protect cellular proteins, membrane lipids, and DNA from oxidative damage caused by free radicals, which can cause cancer and other diseases.
Nutrients in 100 Grams of Boiled Cardoons
Daily Value
392 mg
43 mg
176 mg
72 mg
1.7 g
0.1 mg
22 µg
0.7 mg
vitamin C
1.7 mg
vitamin A
118 IU
23 mg
5.3 g
0.8 g
vitamin B6
0.042 mg
0.031 mg
1 µg
0.3 mg
0.2 mg
pantothenic acid
0.1 mg
0.018 mg
0.1 g
0 mg

Cardoons resemble a bunch of wide, flat celery. You can find them in markets in mid-winter through to early spring. Look for firm, crisp stalks with a silvery gray-green color. Choose the lightest colored cardoons, because the greener they are, the more likely they will be bitter.
Refrigerate cardoons in a sealed container up to one week.

To prepare, remove tough outer stalks. Wash the inner stalks well. Trim the base and tops. Peel the back of the stalks before cooking them. Be careful, because cardoons are thistles, and just like artichokes, they have thorns, albeit quite small.  The thorns are located on the edges of the stalks and need to be trimmed. Cut the stalks into 2-3 inch pieces. If you are not going to cook them immediately, soak them in water in which you have mixed the juice of a lemon. This will prevent them turning brown. Boil, braise or bake until tender (some recipes call for boiling up to 30-40 minutes). You can also use them in long-simmering soups and stews. You can also use them in a gratin by baking them in a cheesy sauce for 20 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and brown. When you cook them you won’t need to add salt as they contain sodium naturally. The roots can be cooked like parsnips.

When cardoons are cooked, their flavor is a cross between artichoke, celery, and salsify. They’re a popular Italian vegetable.

Try this recipe:

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Friday, January 1, 2016

Cardoon – beautiful thistle with attitude

Leaves and flowers removed
Getting the woody strings off (put the stems in water with lemons squeezed in)
Boil the cardoons with lemons
I harvested my first cardoon a few weeks ago my second cardoon yesterday.  The first one was made in to a successful dish, but the second was a disaster, fairly bitter and very stringy even though I spent the better part of the morning peeling the stalks and boiling them. Boiling for an hour tenderises the stalks and draws out the bitterness, but in this case it was not quite successful. As you can see from the pictures, a lot of work goes into preparing the cardoon before one can make up the dish for the table. I covered the boiled and cleaned cardoon in bechamel and sprinkled cheese and bread crumbles over the top then baked it in the oven until bubbly and crispy on top.  The taste was OK and the sauce and topping terrific but no one was very impressed and No second helpings! Someone wrote that one can only expect a good harvest after the 3rd year, saying that their cardoon grows to 2 meters high. Mine were planted this year and were about 1 and n half meter high when I cut them down. The first plant has regrown. We did boil the small buds like we do with artichokes and ate the soft parts of the leaves and the hearts and that was very nice.
I have to think about this vegetable and research it more – I am determined to make a successful dish when I harvest the third plant. Advice anyone ?
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