Cardoons and a recipe for Cardoon Potato Gratin

Pink stem Cardoon ‘Rouge de Algiers’

Pink stem Cardoon ‘Rouge de Algiers’

A ‘Food Forest’ or ‘Forest Garden’ is a design practice that falls under the broader heading of ‘Permaculture’. (The term Agro-forest is also used but I tend to avoid using it as it lends itself to a more commercial connotation)
Within such a design plan one tries to establish layers of mostly perennial plants that will provide an abundance of food, medicine, and sometimes utilitarian uses.
One such plant that I love to grow is the cardoon, which will grow wherever its cousin the artichoke thrives. And like the artichoke, cardoons are loaded with Silymarin.
At first appearance, these beauties, growing to six feet tall, resemble giant celery on steroids.
They put out a flower that looks just like an artichoke, though usually smaller. That’s not the part that’s best to eat. It’s the ribbed stalks that are used instead.

Cardoons have a delicate artichoke heart taste and are great in many wonderful dishes: gratins, bagna cauda (a traditional Piedmont dish of barely blanched cardoon stalks served with a garlicky dipping sauce), fritters, stews either gently braised on their own or with other vegetables, and soups (particularly creamed soups)

Like an artichoke, cardoons need a bit of preparation. Although some folks use them right after trimming, I think it’s best to blanch them before using them in order to remove the bitterness that is sometimes present, especially in older larger stalks.

To blanch Cardoons;
Trim the stalks of all the leaves. Then shave the edges as they can have small spines. Trim off any large ribs as you might on a celery stalk. And then cut the stalks into a length to fit your pot.

Fill the pot with enough water to cover the cut cardoon, add the salt (about a tablespoon) and lemon juice. Bring the water to a boil. Add the cardoon pieces to the boiling water.
Boil for about 15-20 minutes, just until tender but still a bit firm. If not using straight away then using a slotted spoon transfer the pieces to an ice bath of cold water in a large bowl to stop the cooking process.
When cooled, drain them, pat dry with a towel (kitchen or paper).
They can be refrigerated for up to two days in a sealed container

Cardoon potato gratin

Ingredients

  • 8-10 cardoon stalks blanched
  • 8 oz grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2-3 potatoes medium
  • 1 pint half & half or cream
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • After blanching, when cool enough to handle, cut the cardoon stalks in 1/4" crescents like sliced celery.
  • Peel the potatoes (optional) and cut them into french-fry-like pieces or half circles as you prefer.
  • Toss the cardoon pieces with the potatoes in a gratin dish.
  • Save a hadnful of the cheese for topping and toss the rest with the vegetables.
  • Add the half&half or cream and the salt and pepper
  • Bake at 425° F for about 40 minutes or until golden and the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork.
  • Serve topped with the reserved Parmesan cheese

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