Jun 3, 2009

Cardi al Forno - baked cardoon recipe

Cardoons have won numerous 'disdained vegetable' championships. In posh foodie blogs and specialized magazines, the humble cardoon never gets mentioned. I read rhapsodies about the parsnip, odes to the beauty and versatility of the pomegranate, carousels around kale. Hardly ever cardoon tangents.

Ironic how my mother has over the years tried unsuccessfully feeding me gobbi (cardoons) ever since I can remember. Now that I've become a thistle-fetishist, her cocky smile burns like a branding iron on my ample buttocks.

The cardoon looks like a very strange celery stalk, but with longer, dustier and thicker ribs. The cardoon bunches that are available here in Italy are about 24" to 36" long. Cardi have a reputation for being difficult suckers to tackle, but once you figure out how to trim and cook them to tame their bitterness, it’s all good. The cardoon is related to the globe artichoke, and it has a similar flavor, as well as the capacity to turn your hands black, just like when handling raw artichokes.

The first step to properly domesticating cardoons is in how to clean them. This is done by stripping off the strings or filament ribs. It's not too time consuming, start at one end or the other, and give it an energetic zip. Once you get into it, it's kind of fun.

Yes, I get my kicks in strange ways (I like to shuck corn ears, too).

1 bunch of ripe cardoons, individual ribs trimmed
1 bowl of cold water with the juice of 1 lemon
Unsalted butter
Parmigiano, grated (lots)
Freshly milled black pepper

Working quickly, chop the stripped cardoon ribs into 2–inch chunks, and place them in acidulated water, just as you would with an artichoke (acidulated as in, soured by the acidity of lemon juice or vinegar, I love how you sound so haute cuisine-educated when you say acidulated).

Drop the cardoon chunks into boiling salted water until the pieces are soft. Now, in Italy, that takes about 10-15 minutes; I have friends in California who say that this takes them 45 minutes. Apparently there are quite a few different cultivars of thistle cardoons; what we get here is white or silvery, curved and not too fibrous.

When they are soft, drain the cardoons. Add little specks of butter, season with freshly ground black pepper and sprinkle with generous amounts of grated Parmigiano. Bake your cardi in the oven on a greased oven pan for a few minutes to melt the cheese and form a delish, golden crust.

Cardoons deserve more popularity. Just think how many ways in which you can prepare them besides the typical above-mentioned Umbrian recipe. 

You can: a) dip them in batter and fry them; 
b) further roast the fried chunks with slabs of Fontina, the cheese melts into the batter and scoffing them is a gooey, delicious mess;
c) add them to soups; 
d) make risotto; 
e) dip them in bagna càuda
just let your imagination run cardoon-wild.

Trivia Note: Cardonnacum, derived from carduus, is Latin for a place thick with thistles. This is believed to be the origin for the name of the Burgundy village of Chardonnay Saône-et-Loire, which in turn is thought to be the home of the famous grape variety.

So please, next autumn, when you go to your farmer's market, stubbornly ask for cardoons and pray for a comeback.


  1. This is completely new to me! fascinating, Lola - thanks x

    *You have been "splashed" (visit my blog!)

  2. Hi Lola,
    I have never heard of this vegetable and think I'll steer clear...

    Happy days

  3. You are right Lola, reading about good food is not fattening, though it makes me water. And finally, alla fine, why not? Aren't desire and anticipation sometimes better than fulfilment? So here I am again. Cardoons or cardi have not been much around in my kitchen. After this post I'll try the possibilities you suggest.

    And to non Italian readers I want to say aloud this blog is excellent for explaining Italian cuisine even to Italians!

    The post on scarpetta was cool, I like you writing on habits also, not only on ingredients or dishes.

  4. Never met a cardoon I didn't like. Well actually, never met a cardoon. I like to think of it as a person, the underdog. He and I would be hanging about.

  5. Never heard of a cardoon. The recipie sounds interesting. =)

  6. have shucked many an ear of corn on the front steps of the family home growing up. the fun we found was not in the zipping but in tossing them at each other. unenlightened about cardoons, until now at least. i hope yours days have slowed a pace. smiles.

  7. I was given an extremely large cardoon head one time and told to let it dry like I do with my artichokes. They become a silvery gray and are beautiful in an arrangement (sorry I know right know you are saying "how could she waste them like that")
    It sat in a bowl changing colour day by day with it's purple thistle head. Of course we know what happens with thistles and dandelions don't we?
    You get up one morning and your entire room is filled with the exploded fluff. It was everywhere and very hard to clean up because it was so light.
    Probably should have eaten the little sucker.

  8. Just love the cardoon flowers!

    Tagged you on my post today!

  9. We sell Cardoon at the nursery where I work and most folks just look at the plants and grimace.

    I will have to print out your recipe and post it at the shop to see if it increases sales of the cardoon plant.

    You're always a trendsetter, Lola.

  10. Where have I been?? i don't know cardoons! But i wanted to eat that picture. yummie.

    I like to shuck corn too ☺


  11. Lola, this looks very appetising, your "Carno al Forno" with all its cardoons (never heard of them before) - I could actually eat a horse tonight but bless you, I can tuck into this beautiful meal after my hard day on ambulance duties. This is great, I get onto your blog straight away every time I come home and I look at your latest post and, presto, there is a lovely meal for me - thank you.
    I was a bit confused by the name 'cardoon' though because I somehow associated this with something I learned as a small boy - I thought it was a "small domestic animal" or something like that - I may have confused the term but no matter or I heard it on a TV programme here called Call My Bluff where they use old words ~ always a pleasure to visit ~ Eddie

  12. Cardoons are not used here in the States by most people, though some of us recognize and appreciate them. I remember an Easter dish, with cardoons and lamb back in my Italian childhood. Thanks to you, Lola, the way you entice the public to appreciate and to try new things, cardoons may climb up the food chain the way arugula did.

    Buon appetito.

  13. Oh, yum!!!!! Looks and sounds fab!!!! We have a new gourmet, international market opening in town in just a few weeks...and now, on your recommendation, I'm gonna look for cardoons!!!! You always inspire me to try new things!!!! Love the picture, too!! Oh, your blog is bad for my diet!!! :-) ~Janine XO

  14. This looks delicious and the post was fascinating. Thanks so much!

  15. Hi found my way here from Fat, Frumpy's blog. I love cooking and found your blog so interesting. By the sounds of this dish, I would love it but have never heard of it in the UK.

  16. Next autumn? For this deli deli cardoons?
    Oh no, right now I am going to call my travel agency, stubbornly ask for a ticket to Roma in my heart:)

    Yeees I will be praying for coming again in Roma:)

    Great article Lola, that you feed us both way, traditions and unique tastes. We being yr readers are so poor to give our appreciation.

    Accept our love.

  17. a veg l'm not familiar with which is unusual...I shall ask my Moannie and then she will show me how l'm sure..

    thanks or your comments and visits..

    fff x

  18. Cardoons! It's fun to say!

    Honestly, I've never heard of this vegetable before. I'll have to see if I can find it anywhere here and try your recipe.

  19. I couldn't resist saying hello, as I've rarely met any other people named Lola throughout my 54 years of wearing the name!

  20. Still giggling over this excellent suggestion from your post below, Lola!

    "They can likewise be crushed and made into an excellent skin exfoliant that can afterwards be dutifully licked off skin by lover."

    Is it any wonder I LOVE your blog!?

  21. I've seen recipes for them in some of my cookbooks which were written/published in the UK, but I haven't found them here yet. The recipe ideas sound delicious and the photo made me drool again. (I seem to drool often when I visit your delicious blog!)

  22. Cardoons are among my top five vegs! They taste of home and bear long gone family memories...
    I cook them just like you suggested, in fact I didn't know any other way to taste them until I read it in your post. Thank you Lola!
    Scusa per le mie fantasie letterarie dell'altra sera...!!

  23. Never heard of them Lola, but delighted to now.
    Great post.
    Told with the heart of real down to earth foodie.

  24. Lola, you can have a look at the "fluff" from the inside of the artichokes and cardoons here on my post from some time ago.