caption Juan Sánchez Cotán (1560–1627), Still Life with Fruits and Vegetables, ca. 1602. Oil on canvas 69.5 x 96.5 cm. Várez Fisa Collection, Madrid. Image courtesy of guggenheim.org
But where was a cardoon to be found in the greater New York/New Jersey area? Invisible at the greenmarkets, nowhere to be found in the exotic produce (of somewhat dicey provenance, I admit) at Corrado’s, I was about to admit defeat after coming up short for the second straight year. But no! The ever-resourceful Martina at Gustiamo came through for me. She gave me the tip: cardoons are often hidden in plain sight along the back wall at Manhattan Fruit Exchange in Chelsea Market. And it was so. After explaining what exactly a cardoon is and what I was planning to accomplish with it to the Exchange’s confused patrons and stockboys, I headed off with my quarry.
So what is a cardoon and what did I plan to do with it? Cardoons, though they resemble exuberantly leafy celery, are actually cousins to the artichoke within the edible thistle family, and share the ‘choke’s somewhat challenging prep and cooking time. They are a bit of a mother to prepare, I warn you.
All the cardoon recipes I researched instructed me to remove the leaves (easy) and peel off the tough outer ribs of the cardoon before slicing. My antique vegetable peeler was not quite up for the task, but after a few mangled stalks, I hit on a technique that I think I’ll continue to use even if a new vegetable peeler appears in my Christmas stocking.
This method leaves most of the cardoon’s flesh intact, something I often have a problem with when cutting in too vigorously with a peeler or a misangled paring knife. I held my paring knife perpendicular to the stem and brushed quickly down its surface, letting the stringy strands pile up at the end of the stalk. Watch and learn:
Once all the ribs were dispatched, they were sliced into bite-size pieces and simmered in acidulated water (that’s water with the juice of a lemon squeezed into it) until tender, about 45 minutes to an hour — just like cooking an artichoke, although you won’t have to worry about the cardoon pieces popping up above your simmering water. Drained and cooled, the tender pieces were ready for eating with just a bit of pungent olive oil and salt, but I went the whole nine yards and used the Babbo recipe for my Thanksgiving guests. How could I not, after so many years?
Cardoons with Preserved Lemon and Onions
from The Babbo Cookbook by Mario Batali
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Makes 6 servings
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 preserved lemon quarters, thinly sliced
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 10-12 cardoon stalks, prepared as above
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the preserved lemons and onion slices and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft and translucent.
Add the prepared cardoons, wine, vinegar, honey, pepper flakes, and a pinch each of salt and pepper.
Cook until the cardoons are soft but still maintain a bite and the liquid is saucy, about 5 minutes more.