Cardoons grow wild in the Mediterranean, and so they are eaten and enjoyed in Italy and France. They are a close relative of the thistle and, of course, the artichoke. They require several steps of preparation, but they are worth the effort.
Small or medium stalks are the most tender and need the least amount of preparation. The stalks should be solid, not spongy, no matter their size. They will keep in the refrigerator for several days, wrapped in moist paper or plastic.
3 cups Heavy Cream
1 cup Chicken Stock
1 Bay Leaf
Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
3 lbs. Cardoons
1 cup Grated Gruyère
1. Place cream, stock, and bay leaf in a large saucepan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Wash cardoons, then remove and discard tough outer stalks. Cut away thorns and pull off stringy fibers. Cut cardoons into 1 1/2″–2″ pieces, placing them immediately into cream mixture as you go, to prevent them from discoloring.
2. Bring cream mixture to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until cardoons are tender, about 1 hour. Using a slotted spoon, transfer cardoon pieces to individual gratin dishes (or a 1-quart baking dish).3. Preheat oven to 350°. Reduce cream mixture to about 3/4 cup over medium heat, about 30 minutes. Discard bay leaf and divide reduced sauce equally between gratin dishes, sprinkle gruyère on top, and bake until golden and bubbly, about 30 minutes.
Egg, beaten with a fork
Fresh Fine Bread Crumbs
1. Choose cardoons with white, tender-looking hearts. Strip the strings from the stalks (just as one would do with celery) and then parboil the cardoons in salted, acidulated water. Drain them when just tender. Cut the stalks into 3-inch by 1-inch sticks. Dredge them in flour, shake off the excess, then dip them in egg and finally in fine bread crumbs. Deep-fry them in peanut oil at 360° until golden brown. Drain on towels and serve.
2. You can also make cardoon fritters in batter. Trim the cardoons, string and parboil them, and cut into sticks, as described above. Dry the cardoons and marinate in a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, and chopped parsley. Dip the slices in fritter batter and deep-fry in peanut oil heated to 375° until lightly browned. Drain on towels, salt, and serve. If you like, batter-fry thinly sliced and seeded Meyer lemons to serve with the cardoons.
Chicken or Vegetable Stock (optional)
1. Trim the cardoons and cut them into 3-inch lengths. Simmer them in a nonreactive pan, well covered with water flavored wtih salt, olive oil, and lemon, for 35 to 45 minutes, until tender. When cool enough to handle, peel away the strings from the cardoons, as you would with celery.
2. Arrange a thick layer of cardoons in a buttered earthenware gratin dish. Just cover with cream, or a mixture of cream and stock, season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with grated Parmesan. Bake in a preheated 375° oven until browned and bubbly. Serve garnished with chopped parsley and chervil.