Friday, November 27, 2009
Cardoni Italian Artichokes are available fall to early spring with a peak season during December.
Thistle family plants produce the familiar globe artichoke and also the celery-like cardoni. There is some confusion between cardoni (cardi) and hunchbacks (gobbi). It is claimed the difference is in the blanching phase, according to The Reader's Digest Grand Illustrated Italian Gastronomic Encyclopedia. Dirt is mounded around the base of cardonies, whereas hunchbacks are bent and buried under the earth in holes. Both types are often found in markets during winter.
Resembling a somewhat distorted stalk of celery with a soft suede feel, cardoni Italian artichoke, also known as cardoon, is silver-gray and produces longer and wider stalks than celery. When cooked, it becomes soft and meaty. The extraordinary flavor is rather complex, tasting both bitter and sweet at the same time.
Low in calories, three and one-half ounces, a little over one-half cup, contain only 20 calories. Providing a fair amount of magnesium and folacin, cardoni is an excellent source of potassium and a good source of iron and calcium. However, this vegetable is high in sodium at 300 milligrams per cup. Eating five daily servings of fruits and vegetables lowers the chance of cancer. A recent study found that eating nine or ten daily servings of fruits and vegetables, combined with three low-fat dairy products, effectively lowered blood pressure.
This cooked vegetable especially loves to be drizzled with light vinaigrettes. Slices, raw or cooked, are excellent for dipping. Chopped raw cardoni makes a tasty addition to a variety of salads. Stews and soups love its mysteriously tasty presence for extra flavor and texture. Precook until just tender; roll or dip in seasoned bread or cracker crumbs or flavorful batter; gently pan fry. Add its unusual and sometimes rather assertive flavor to stir-fries. Pair with white or brown rice, couscous or other favorite grains. To prepare, trim and halve the trimmed stalks crosswise; separate stalks; wash thoroughly. Boil fifteen to thirty minutes or until fork-tender in a generous amount of salted boiling water to remove any bitterness. Do not overcook. Drain; cool in cold running water; place stalks in a bowl of cool water; remove strings with a paring knife as necessary; cut into pieces and use as desired. To store, wrap base in moist paper towels; put in a plastic bag; refrigerate. If purchased in good condition, cardoni usually keeps up to two weeks.
Spreading like a weed, Australians call this vegetable "weed artichoke". The cuisines of Spain, France and especially Italy favor cardoni. Italians love raw or cooked strips dipped in extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper or in bagna cauda, a rich hot Piedmontese dip. "Chardoons a la Fromage" as featured in Hannah Glasse's 1796 book, "The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy", has cardoni combined with a "medieval melding" of orange juice, red wine, pepper and butter, finishing if off with just enough grated Cheshire or Parmesan cheese to brown it nicely.
Native to the Mediterranean, primarily Italy, cardoni was at one time a highly regarded culinary item in ancient Rome. Although Italian cuisine fondly embraced it, the English didn't care for it all that much. American colonists shared the same liking as the English. Because of its lack of popularity, cardoni eventually became a specialty item and available only in Italian markets. A member of the species Cynara cardunculus, other names include cardi and cardoons. Today's chefs have been enthusiastically reviving this age-old vegetable with innovative ways to showcase and reveal its goodness and to win the approval of taste buds of doubting diners. These tasty efforts have been deliciously successful.