Christmas Cardoon

This strange looking vegetable first started showing up at the local markets in early December.  About that same time we noticed that they were harvesting fields of what we had thought were artichokes, cutting the plants down to the ground. They were clearly not artichokes. Turns out this is the season for carde or cardon (cardoon in English), a rather unappetizing looking plant whose stalks when raw have the consistency of pithy celery but have a mild artichoke flavor. Like its cousin the artichoke, the cardoon plant is in the Asteraceae family producing a thistle if let grow to maturity.

In the Gard, maybe other regions of France as well, carde is a Christmas vegetable generally served in some sort of white sauce. And while it is eaten in other countries, cream and/or cheese seem to be a main ingredient in nearly all preparations. Below are two recipes – one a decadent splurge with crème fraiche and anchovies and the second a healthy plate with Marsala wine and slivered almonds. Personally, nothing tops the crème fraiche and anchovies, but hey, not every day is Christmas.

Notes on Preparing and Cooking Cardoon

You want tender stalks that are not too pithy. The first bunch of cardoon that I bought at a farmers market was less pithy and cooked to fork tender in just 30 minutes. The second bunch I bought at the grocery store seemed more mature and after an hour on the stove, although edible, remained tough and stringy.

Wash and peel the stalks, removing the strings like you would celery. Cut up the stalks into 1 1/2 inch sections and boil in salted water. Adding the juice of one small lemon to the water helps them not turn brown and adds a nice acidity to the otherwise bland vegetable. Start checking for doneness after 25 minutes and continuing cooking until done, up to 45 minutes or so. After that they are not going get any more tender. Drain well before adding to the recipes below.

Cardoon in Anchovy Sauce

Based on the recipe Cardes aux anchoix in Recettes paysannes du Gard by Marc Béziat

2 lb cardoon – prepared as noted above
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup crème fraiche
Anchovies to taste – I like about 8-10.
Oil for sautéing the garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

Sauté the garlic in small amount of oil. After about 30 seconds to a minute add the crème fraiche and let it melt in the pan over med to low heat, stirring occasionally. Break up the anchovies and add them to the sauce, stirring so that they too melt into the sauce. Add the cardoon and cook until heated through and flavors have melded. Salt and pepper to taste.

Cardoon in Marsala Wine with Almonds

2 lb cardoon – prepared as noted above

1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
½ t thyme
¼ cup Marsala wine
A drizzle of honey
Salt and pepper to taste
2 T slivered almonds, toasted
Oil for sautéing

Sauté the onion and garlic with the thyme in oil over medium heat until the onion softens and begins to color, about 10-15 minutes. Add the cardoon. Pour in the Marsala wine and stir until the wine has mostly evaporated. Drizzle with honey and add salt and pepper to taste. Stir and check the seasoning. Sprinkle with the slivered almonds and serve.

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