Saturday, October 3, 2009
The Forgotten Cardoon
Last night we incorporated a couple cardoon stalks into the evening meal. I diced up eggplant, red pepper, blue corn, onions, cut in half and cored a few meaty little Turkey tomatoes (one of my new favorites). The cardoons were then peeled, diced, boiled in salted water and later added to the rest of the mixture. My wife was in charge of salmon, generously donated by my in-laws (thanks!), baked with tomatillos and dill. We topped everything off with a zesty salsa and side of warm cornbread...it was delicious.
Cardoons, a biennial and member of the artichoke family, grow fairly well for us as long as they are provided with plenty of water. These large prehistoric appearing plants have saw-toothed leaves and ribbed stalks similar to celery. I started growing them a few years back as we hope to eventually start making some of our own goat cheese. Cardoons contain enzymes that can replace rennet in the cheese making process. Since we have yet to try our hand at cheese and still don't have a viable source of goat milk, we decided to make better use of this rather unusual vegetable and have begun to include it in our diet.
Traditionally, the stalks are blanched in the fall by mounding dirt or straw around them and tying or wrapping the upper portions in paper or any material that will keep the light away, helping to tenderize the stems. We have not tried this, and find that if watered properly the stalks do not seem to get very tough, and the inner ones are often palatably delicate.
In the kitchen, the leaves are removed and the back of the stocks peeled of any fibrous strings. Immediately after peeling and cutting the stalks should be put in cold acidic (salt, vinegar, or lime juice) water to keep them from discoloring. They can then be boiled for about 20 minutes at the cook's leisure. With an almost bittersweet flavor and texture similar to celery I plan to use them in stir fries, soups, or any of the funky dishes we tend to make around here. They are not bad raw either, especially while still young.
While this vegetable may not be for everyone, we hope to make better use of it in the kitchen and will be attempting to overwinter some in both the garden and root cellar this year.