There is only one vendor that sells cardoon at my farmer’s market, and they display the stalks in a gigantic flower vase. Every time I walk past this stand, I think of Tim Burton movies and imagine this vase full of tall, naked, stringy cardoon stalks as a macabre bouquet of flowers… Even with the eerie association, I gravitate towards this unusual vegetable, and nearly always buy some whenever I come across it.
Similar to an artichoke in taste, and slightly resembling celery in appearance, cardoon is a wonderful, unusual vegetable that is worth seeking out. Most people have never tried it, and so it makes a great dish to bring to a dinner gathering. I have never seen cardoon at a grocery store, only at farmer’s markets or through a CSA I used to subscribe to. It’s pretty ugly as far as vegetables go (pale milky green, jagged edges), and can be daunting if you haven’t come across these stems before. Though the stalks do require a fair bit of prep work before they are ready to be used, the flavor is lovely, and in my opinion, worth the effort (and it’s certainly no worse than preparing artichokes!)
When considering what flavors marry well with cardoon, think of artichokes and go from there. To me this means cream, mayonnaise, lemon, vinaigrette, etc. Here I combined parboiled sliced cardoon with potato, cream, and robust cheese This (very simple) gratin is quite rich and can certainly hold its own as a main dish. Serve with a green salad, some crusty bread, and perhaps some roasted beets along side for a lovely uncomplicated meal. Enjoy!
Cardoon and Potato Gratin
3-4 cardoon stalks, each about 24 inches long
2 medium-large (a little larger than fist size) yellow potatoes
1 c. loosely packed grated hard, salty cheese, divided (I used a mixture of Pecorino Romano and Spanish Manchego; gruyere, parmesan, or comte would also be nice)
about 1 1/2 c. half and half
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Prepare the Cardoon:
Cut off any leaves that are still attached to the cardoon stalks and discard. Cut the stalks into thirds, about 8 inches long, so they are easier to work with. Using a paring knife or vegetable peeler, peel the convex side of the cardoons which is stringy and slightly bitter.
Blanch the cardoon stalks in a pot of boiling water with about 1 T. of either lemon juice or vinegar. Cook until tender, about 10-15 minutes. Remove cardoons from water, drain, then slice across the grain into 1/4 inch pieces.
Assemble the gratin:
Peel the potatoes and cut into batons, about 1x 1/4 x1/4 inches (no need to be too exact). Combine the potatoes, cardoon, and the cheese (leaving behind about a handful to top the gratin) in a medium sized casserole dish. Mix with your hands to combine. Season with salt (scant) and pepper (generous), then pour the half and half over the top until it comes a little over halfway up the sides of the vegetables. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over top, then bake for about 40 minutes until the potatoes are cooked through and the top is nicely browned. Remove from oven, allow to cool for about 5 minutes, then serve. Enjoy!