Fear Of Cardoons

I’ve always thought that cardoons were an absolute waste of chlorophyll, not to mention growing space and market space. They look prehistoric, are a hassle to prepare, and up until now, never tasted like much of anything. Sure, you can read about their vaunted delicate artichoke heart-like flavor, but I’ve always thought that was a polite way to say bland, bland, bland. Unfazed, our friend Alice gave me a clump of cardoons the other day, and recited me her recipe for Cardes à la Provençale. It’s a typical Provençal dish at this time of year, and she spoke of anchovies, and garlic, and I found that tempting, but memories of previous bad experiences with the fibrous stalks made me, ulp, toss the stuff. Besides, I reasoned, you could eat cardboard with anchovy and garlic sauce and it would probably taste, if not exactly good, at least not too different than the cardoons themselves would.

Undaunted, Alice invited us over and prepared the dish herself, after extracting from me my sheepish admission that no, I hadn’t actually used the cardoons she gave me.

Ok, I admit it.  I was wrong, I was absolutely wrong. I remembered having to cook the dratted things for an hour and a half before they got tender. Alice instructed me to use only the tender, white hearts of the cardoon, not any of the green and mega-tough outer stalks. You do have to pull off the long strings, as you might with some over-age celery stalk, but that’s sort of fun, in a perverse way. And while I didn’t discover any sort of delicate artichoke flavor, because the anchovies and garlic pack a real wallop, and while the dish will never win any beauty contests, it is, in fact, pretty darn good, especially in a relatively small quantity as a starter. So get yourself a clump of cardoon, try this recipe, and imagine that you’re spending Christmas in Provence.

Alice’s Cardes à la Provençale

serves 3-4

1 large clump heart of cardoon
4 T white vinegar
8 anchovy fillets
5 cloves garlic
3 T olive oil
about 1 cup heavy cream, up to 1 1/2 cups

First, steel yourself. You need to separate and wash the stalks, because cardoon can harbor a lot of inner dirt. Next, de-string the stalks, enjoying yourself as much as you can in the process. Fill a large pot with water and add the vinegar. Cut across the stalks as if you were thickly slicing celery, halving lengthwise any really large stalks.

As you cut the cardoons, drop the pieces immediately into the vinegary water, to keep them from turning brown. When all the cardoon pieces are in the pot, bring it to a boil, then lower the heat a bit and boil gently for 20-30 minutes. You want the cardoons to be fork-tender, but still slightly firm, as they’re nicer to eat with a little bit of crunch. Drain the cardoons into a colander.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet and add the anchovies, mashing them with a fork until they dissolve. Add the garlic and sauté until it turns lightly golden. Put the cardoons into the skillet and stir to combine. Now add the cream, starting with one cup. What you’re going to do is cook the whole mixture until the cream reduces and a thick creamy sauce covers the cardoons. In my skillet, which is large, I ended up using a cup and a half. Don’t be shy with the cream, it’s the ingredient that brings the whole thing together. When the cardoons are luxuriously coated, add lots of freshly ground black pepper. You probably won’t need to add any salt because the anchovies are pretty salty, but you may add more if you wish.

Serve all alone on a small plate as a first course with a good bread to mop up the last bits of sauce. And fear cardoons no more, this dish conquers all. While eating it, the word cardboard will never once cross your mind.

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6 Comments on “Fear Of Cardoons”


  1. After purchase we wrap them in newspaper, or brown paper bags, to blanche them away from the light, like Belgian Endive. After a week they are tender and lighter in color. The first boiling, although seasoned, is thrown away (the water that is). Second boiling with marrow/soup bones and all the usual onion, bay leaf, cloves, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Drain the cardoon, save the liquid. Layer cardoon, the marrow from the bones and grated gruyere in layers in an oven proof dish. Complete with enough liquid to almost cover, bake in a medium oven until the gruyere is golden. Serve. This is the Lyonnais version.
    Left over liquid becomes a clear soup, add pasta or couscous grains and finish with garlic croutons and grated gruyere or parmesan.
    It is no small task so we buy all we find and make a huge production then have tasty freezer packs to fall back on.

  2. Abra Bennett Says:

    Wow, that’s an interesting preparation, I’ll have to give it a try! I had no idea they could be blanched after being cut.

  3. chrisp Says:

    Its the old trick you can make anything taste good with anchovies, and garlic. I am going to give this a try

  4. Rebecca Says:

    My mother made cardoons with spaghetti every year- it was a dish she brought to us from her childhood. She prepped and boiled, then dunked the cardoon in a light dough of sorts, fried them and then served them with spaghetti in olive oil AND butter, with lots of garlic. I adored eating this dish, but so much work! I have made it once in the past ten years. you’ve inspired me to find that recipe and teach my daughter to make our family recipe- cardoons are a delicate and unique treat.

  5. Abra Bennett Says:

    That sounds really good too, and I imagine that just the cardoon fritters would be good without the spaghetti.


  6. Hello, I am an english chef who left the UK three years ago to live and work in the South West of France. I’m liking the blog! I have never heard of Cardoon’s? Is it a specifically regional thing? We have blettes which they call Swiss chard in england, but they are less prehistoric looking!

    You might be interested in a look at my blog too which is basically about our french food adventures here…
    http://www.northbysudouest.blogspot.com

    nbso


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