Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bonny 'doons

Katrina's been imploring me to stop being lazy and start posting again, and we've jointly identified a need to increase the weirdness level of our chosen specimens. So, in an effort to surprise, disorient, and tantalize readers, I'm reaching back more than a month to give you cardoons.

These pale green, almost translucent stalks have graced menus at my past restaurant jobs, and I once heard a server describe them as "a member of the thistle family, like the artichoke." This is true, but really explains nothing about the flavor and does little to allay the diner's fear of the strange. (How likely would you be to order potatoes after hearing that they're a member of the nightshade family, like the eggplant?) Anyway, here's my attempt at description:

Imagine hacking away at the outer branches of an artichoke plant, the ones that reach outward and upward to embrace the thorny, flowerbud-bearing trunks in the center. Still can't picture it? Think of tall, slightly curved stalks—longer than my forearms—similar in strength and stringiness to celery or fennel, sans the feathery topknot and with a more defensive air about them. Like the ridged, whitened offspring of an aloe vera plant and the protective outer arms of a rather large head of cauliflower. With velvety, silver-sided leaves. Still confused? Just look at the picture.

Flavorwise, they're salty celery with a tangy, artichoke-tinged finish. I removed the leaves, then sliced the ones above (from Knoll Farms at the FB) into crisp U-shaped segments that I cooked briefly in salted, boiling water. Before they turned mushy (after 5 or so minutes), I removed and drained them, tossed them with a lemony vinaigrette, then mixed in a chopped soft-poached egg to balance the acid. A little trick I learned from the artichoke witch of the west. No. I googled them and stole the recipe from Mariquita Farms' website. Those farmers know their thistles.


kale daikon said...

Yum! A+ for mouth-watering weirdness. That's the only one I've given out all year, I swear. But which Bonny Doon are you punning on? I thought I got it, but then I didn't know if it was the wine, the farm, or the original Bonny Doon where all the others came from...

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm from the east coast, and maybe our cardoons aren't so yummy here. I just bought them freshly picked in the morning this week at a farmer's market, on the advice of my Italian family and friends, whose mothers used to stop along the road and dig the crazy things out. What they did was boil them, like you did, then either sautee them in olive oil and serve them with parmesan, or coat them with a breadcrumb/parmesan mixture and either fry or bake them. We tried both. Verdict? Lots of trouble to go to for something that we couldn't eat because of the bitterness. Looks like you had better luck!

eek said...

This comment led me to investigate, and I've concluded I was lucky. Considering I didn't peel away any stringy bits and boiled them for less than 10 minutes, my Knoll Farms cardoons must've been young and sweet specimens.

Naturally, the internet is brimming with complicated multi-step recipes that annoy me, but I did find this promising post from The Atlantic's food blog.

Let me know if you decide to give it another go – it's nice to hear vegetal voices from the east!