Ingredients

Artichoke and cardoon

General Description: Artichokes (Cynara scolymus_) and cardoons (_Cynara cardunculus) are close relatives in the thistle group of the Compositae family. Artichokes and cardoons are both edible thistles. The culinary value of artichokes is their flower buds, while the cardoon’s is its leafstalks.

Large artichokes come from the end of the plant’s central stem, while baby artichokes come from the lateral shoots. Baby artichokes may be trimmed, cooked, and eaten whole, while large artichokes need preparation.

The green globe variety accounts for nearly all artichokes grown in the U.S. They have a nutty flavor, especially the inner heart and the innermost portion of the leaves. Sharp thorns at the tips of each leaf can prick the unwary. “Thornless” artichokes have leaf ends that are split like a cloven hoof. Their flesh tends to be soft, without the nuttiness of true green globes.

All artichokes contain an acid called cynarin that makes everything taste sweet after eating it. To eat a whole steamed artichoke, pull each leaf off the choke and hold it by its pointed end. Drag the leaf across your teeth to remove the edible portion at the bottom third of the leaf. The heart, but not the choke, is entirely edible.

Cardoons are rare in the U.S. A few weeks before harvest, the stalks of cardoon plants must be “blanched,” or kept from the sunlight, in order to cut down on natural bitterness. Cardoon resembles a giant bunch of celery. Dried wild cardoon heads are used as a substitute for cheese-making rennet in parts of Spain, France, and Italy.

Season: Artichokes are available year-round, with peak season March through May and again, with a smaller crop, in October. Fresh artichokes cannot be imported into the United States. For this reason, Americans don’t see many of the violet and other special artichokes sold in Europe. You are likely to find cardoons in December in areas with large Italian populations, because cardoons are a traditional part of Christmas dinner, and they are in season in the fall and winter.

Purchase: Choose artichokes that have tightly packed, crisp leaves with bright coloring. Fall and winter artichokes may be dark or bronze-tipped or have a whitish, blistered appearance due to exposure to light frost. Many consider artichokes to be the tenderest and most intensely flavored after a frost.

Avoid: Artichokes that are tough or woody or that have spread apart leaves are old. Check the cut end for freshness—avoid a black cut, which indicates the artichoke has been stored too long. Avoid artichokes that are wilting, drying out, or moldy.

Storage: Refrigerate artichokes and cardoons for up to 1 week.

Preparation: Whole Medium or Large Artichokes:

  1. Use a small, sharp paring knife to trim off the small, tough outer leaves of the artichoke near the stem. Snip
    off the leaf tips, if desired.
  2. Cut off and discard the stem so that the artichoke will stand upright.
  3. Gently open up the leaves to expose the hairy choke inside.
  4. Using a small stainless steel spoon, scrape out and discard the hairy choke and the small pointed purplish leaves covering it.
  5. Place the artichokes in lemon juice and water to prevent discoloration until ready to use.

Cardoon:

  1. Remove and discard the tough outer stalks.
  2. Separate the individual stalks and heart and cut them up.
  3. Drop the pieces into salted boiling water and lemon juice and cook for 15 minutes.
  4. Remove obvious strings and white skin.

Serving Suggestion: Artichoke: Steam whole for approximately 25 minutes and serve hot with a dipping sauce of lemon butter or hollandaise or serve cold with a flavored mayonnaise or vinaigrette. Deep-fry whole cleaned baby artichokes until they are golden brown. Stuff steamed artichokes with rice, ground meat, sausage, chicken, vegetables, cheese, or a combination and bake until bubbling hot.

Cardoon: Boil whole for 30 minutes or until tender, then dip in batter and fry or bake with butter and cream, topped with cheese or breadcrumbs. Slice raw cardoons into strips and dip into bagna cauda, a hot anchovy and garlic dip of Piedmont, Italy.

Flavor Affinities: Artichoke: garlic, herbs, lemon, nuts, olive oil, and white wine. Cardoon: cheese, cream sauces, roast meat and chicken, truffles and truffle oil, vinaigrette dressing.

from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com