While grocery shopping the other day I was fortunate to come across some cardoons (carduna in the Sicilian dialect, cardi or cardone in Italian), which is a rare occurrence since there isn’t a significant Italian population where I live. The cardoon is a valued vegetable not only to the Italians and French but also to other countries along the Mediterranean. They are considered a culinary delicacy. It is a tradition in our family to grace our Christmas dinner table with a side dish of cardoons. If you have never eaten cardoon before, you’re in for a real treat.
The cardoon plant is a member of the thistle family and a close relative of the artichoke. It is also similar in flavor to the artichoke. In California, where it grows wild in dry climate areas, it is considered an invasive weed. What a pity. The stems of the cultivated cardoon plant resemble an overgrown bunch of celery with silvery greenish-gray leaves. They must be cooked before eating. The cut ends will start turning brown and must be put immediately in acidic water.
Fried Breaded Cardoon
Carduna Fritti/ Cardone Fritti
1 large bunch cardoon
1 1/4 cups dry plain bread crumbs
1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup minced Italian parsley leaves
1 clove garlic, finely minced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour for dredging
3 large eggs, beaten
3/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil for frying
PREPARE THE CARDOONS: Fill a large pot with 4-quarts of salted water. Stir in the juice of 1/2 lemon. Wash the cardoon.
Trim the top and cut off the stem end. Remove the tough outer ribs and the feathery heart and discard.
Cut the inner ribs into 5-inch pieces.
Trim any leaves. Using a paring knife or vegetable peeler, remove the tough fibers from each cardoon piece. Immediately place in the pot of water.
Bring the pot to a boil over high heat and cook cardoons until tender, about 45 to 55 minutes.
Let drain in a colander until dry and cool enough to handle.
MAKE THE BREADING: Combine the bread crumbs, cheese, parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper in a shallow bowl.
BREAD THE CARDOON: Heat 1/2 cup of the oil in a large frying pan over medium-heat. Place the flour and eggs in separate shallow bowls. Set up an assembly line by placing the flour, eggs, and bread crumbs in order respectively.
First, dredge the cardoon in flour, shaking off any excess flour.
Then, coat in the beaten eggs.
Next, coat with breadcrumbs.
FRY THE CARDOON: Working in batches, fry the cardoon about 2 to 3 minutes on each side until golden brown. Add more oil as needed.