Monday, March 21, 2011

Cardoon - Exotic Ingredient #1

As and assignment from my friend and co-worker at Surdyk's Cheese Shop, Head Chef Heather Saliba handed me a magnet of an oil painting where the subjects were fruits and vegetables.  She pointed out a strange looking something that looked like Celery stalks, and told me a bit about the Cardoon.  My assignment: figure out what this thing is and how to use it.

Cultivated in the Mediterranean, the Cardoon has an Artichoke-like bulb with pedals and meaty heart, crossed with a Celery-like stalks.  The vegetable's blooms, a vibrant periwinkle, are edible as well.  Cardoons are in season during the winter months and may appear in Farmers Markets May, June, July in the U.S.  It takes about 5 months for this plant to mature.  This vegetable was very much in fashion until Europe's late 19th Century and was present in colonial America.  The plant adapts well to dry climates and is considered a weed in California, Australia, and Argentina. Cardoons typically add an earthy, herbaceous and citric flavor to dishes, commented on my Celebrity chefs as having a, "sexy flavor".  Ooo la la!

Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Asterales
Family: Asteraceae
Genus: Cynara
Species: C. cardunculus
Binomial name
Cynara cardunculus

Typically braised or steamed the earthy flavor is appealing in European soup, though in New Orleans they are battered and fried, I should have guessed.  This is interesting for the cheese lovers.  Cardoons carry and enzyme that is used as vegetarian rennet in the production of cheese.  (Rennet coagulates the curd and keeps the form of the cheese.  Traditional rennet is found in the stomach of the mother's milk, but vegetarian rennet is commonly used in Europe and the U.S.).

Cardoons can be used in dishes such as:

  • Soups - a classic Italian soup of Cardoon in chicken broth, meatballs and egg drop spindles.
  • Fried - battered in chick pea flour and deep fried.
  • Cocido Madrileno - a hearty sephardic dish from Madrid, made of chick peas a vegetables: potatoes, cabbage, carrots, turnups.  Later on adding pork belly, chorizo or blood sausage.

For more recipes check out

If any of you chefs have another Exotic Ingredient assignment, let me know.  I love this kind of research.  Lay it on me!

Again soon!