We usually had cardoni at Thanksgiving time. It is a winter vegetable that, when prepared correctly, tastes like artichokes. Since all Italians love artichokes, all Italians should also love cardoni.
I grow them in my garden and I prepare them around the holidays as well. You cannot find them in the stores. They are simple to grow, but if you do, around September 1st you have to wrap the cardoni in cardboard or burlap (plastic makes them rot) and let them blanch for about six weeks. They are pretty tough and can take a few frosts without any damage, so keep it on as long as you dare.
When it is time to harvest, sadly, all but the bottom 18 inches of the plant is thrown away. The outer leaves are usually too large and tough as well. There is a lot of waste, but I guess that is typical of plants in the artichoke family.
The next step is trimming the cardoons. They have to be trimmed of their thorns and then the long strings removed from the back. In addition, there is a film on the front of the stalks you should remove. A paring knife works well.
Oh, if your hands turn black its normal. Don’t worry, it goes away quickly. Place cleaned cardoons in salted water with lemon juice added to prevent browning. I usually cut them in 6-inch pieces. Then bring them to a boil until very tender (about 35 minutes). They should not have any bitterness left at this point.
Only now can you cook with them. There are three dishes I like and all are extremely simple.
Cardi Fritti (Fried)
1) Dredge the cardoon pieces in flour and shake off the excess.
2) Dredge pieces through a well beaten egg.
3) Bread heavily in seasoned breadcrumbs.
4) Fry in corn oil at 350 degrees until brown
5) Drain on paper towels and lightly salt
Cardi alla Romana (Roman style)- this one is my favorite way
1) Cover the bottom of a pan in a besciamela sauce (see my white sauce)
2) Put a single layer of cardoons on the bottom of the pan
3) Sprinkle with grated parmigiano cheese
4) Repeat steps 1 through 3
5) Cover with breadcrumbs and bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes
Cardi and Bagna Cauda
Eat them cooked with a bagna cauda. You can use them raw this way too, but stick to the very tender and very white center leaves. You still will have to remove the thorns though
These are not as much work as everyone says, and really, what the heck. I only do it once a year. Also, if you notice, I harvest all of mine at once. That is because I cook and then freeze all of them. Cooked cardoons freeze extremely well! Ten plants give me about five bags of cardoons.