Although Cardoons may look like celery, let me assure you, they definitely don't taste like celery. Cardoons are members of the artichoke family. The taste of a cardoon has a lot to do with the way it's cooked; eaten raw, the cardoon at first has a very bitter taste, its aftertaste however is nothing short of refreshing. It will leave you with that "just back from the dentist feel."
In Italy, eating raw cardoons at the end of a meal-with salt and olive oil over top-is considered healthy, as it cleans and refreshes the palate and digestion. (the same is believed of fennel) It was also believed to have aphrodisiac properties (not that Italians would need any.)
Cooking Cardoons will alter the taste considerably. Most recipes call for the cardoon to be boiled in salted water for 45 minutes to 2 hours before you bake or fry them. I found this recipe from the quintessential Italian cookbook, The Silver Spoon, which has a section dedicated to cardoons.
Note: If you can't find cardoons, you can substitute with celery, fennel, carrots, or radishes. Better yet, use them all.
Cardoons with Bagna Cauda
- juice of 1 lemon, strained
- 2 1/4 pounds of cardoons
- 2/3 cup butter, plus extra for greasing
- 2 garlic cloves
- 10 anchovy fillets in oil, drained *If you don't like anchovies, please leave my web site.
- 1/2 cup Parmegiano cheese, freshly grated.
Pour 9 cups water into a large pot and add the lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Cut the ends of the cardoons, cut the inner stems into 3" lengths and remove all strings, immediately dropping the stem pieces into the pot. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease an ovenproof dish with butter. Drain the cardoons well, then tip into the prepared dish. To make the bagna cauda, (which is a sauce typical to the Piedmontese) melt the butter in a small pan, add the garlic and cook for a few minutes until lightly browned, then remove and discard. Add the anchovies to the pan and cook, mashing with a fork until smooth. Pour the anchovy-flavored butter over the cardoons and sprinkle with the Parmegiano. Bake for 30 minutes and serve.