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Friday, January 3, 2014

Cardoon

Cardoon:

Cardoon is a Mediterranean vegetable closely related to the artichoke which is cultivated for its edible leafstalks and roots.  Cardoon is a naturally occuring  form of the same species as the globe artichoke.   The cardoon is also called artichoke thistle, cardone, cardoni, carduni, or cardi.  Cardoon is native to the western and central Mediterranean, where it was cultivated in ancient times.  

The cardoon was popular in Greek, Roman, and Persian cuisine and remained popular in medieval and early modern Europe.  It was common in the vegetable gardens of colonial America, but fell from fashion in the late nineteenth century.  Cardoons are a common vegetable in northern Africa amd often used in Algerian or Tunisian couscous. Today cardoon is considered a weed in Australia and California because of its invasive nature and adaptability to dry climates.  Although not very popular today cardoons can be found in some supermarkets and farmer's markets, usually during the winter months.  Cardoon is harvested in the winter and spring. 

My first exposure to cardoon was working in a supermarket in Florida.   The box was marked "Cardone" and all the people in the produce department thought it was such a hoot when someone would come in around the holidays and ask for "cardooni's".  The sound of it kind of reminded me of "Father Guido Sarducci" from Saturday Night Live.  Cardoon was one of those items that you were required to carry, but you would be lucky to sell half the box before you had to throw it away.

Cardoon has attracted attention recently as a possible source of biodiesel.  The oil extracted from the seeds of the cardoon is called artichoke oil and is similar to safflower and sunflower oil in composition and use.   Cardoons are used as a vegetarian source of enzymes for cheese production and are also grown as  ornamental plants for their imposing architectural appearance.   

Cardoons are only edible when cooked.  The taste has been discribed as a cross between artichoke and celery.  To cook, trim off any leaves or thorns and peel the stalks with a vegetable peeler to remove the indigestible outer fibers.  Cardoons discolor when cut so place cut pieces in cold water with lemon juice.  Cardoons can be braised, sauteed, boiled in soups and stews, or dipped in batter and deep fried.  One caveat though, depending on age they can take up to an hour to get soft and tender enough to eat.  

Choose firm and very crisp cardoons with a touch of dew on them.  Discoloration of the cut end is normal.  To store cut in half crosswise and wrapped in a wet paper towel and put in a paper or plastic bag.  Refrigerate in the crisper for one to two weeks, but no longer.  Use the top half first.  Dried out cardoon is inedible.  

So...... Eat up!    Enjoy!   I'll show you how. 

Simple but good:

1/2 bunch of cardoon trimmed of leaves, thorns, and outer fibers, cut to 3 inch pieces
lemon juice for simmering water
egg, beaten
seasoned bread crumbs
canola oil for frying

Add lemon juice to pot of boiling water.   Add cut cardoons and boil for 15 to 30 minutes.  They are done when you can easily push the ridge flat with a fork.  Allow to cool then dip the flattened cardoon in the egg and then the breadcrumbs.  Fry until golden brown.  Remove to a piece of paper towel to drain excess oil.   Enjoy while warm.