In the spring when I was a kid in Jersey I went foraging for cardoons with my Uncle Frank in the “wild” West Orange hills. He married Aunt Florence, my Mom’s sister, and they lived downstairs from us.
Uncle Frank was born in Calabria and didn’t speak much English but he knew how to forage and I loved trapezing through the woods with him.
Back home with our cardoons, Aunt Flo fried them until golden. I’d always steal one hot out of the oil and I’d always burn the roof of my mouth as I scarfed it down.
I don’t see cardoons in the market often but when I do I grab some. I found these at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market. The guy I bought mine from said nobody buys his cardoons but chefs. “Nobody knows what to do with them,” he said.
Don’t be afraid of cardoons. Now you can be in on a culinary secret ingredient that I grew up with. Cardoons can be scary looking but they’re really easy to cook up once you know how. Here’s how my Aunt Florence did it.
Blanch the cleaned cardoons and bread them after a dip in egg wash. Fry them until golden all over. Give the cardi fritti a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of sea salt and you’ll be in for a rare treat.
Cardoons are cousins of the artichoke and that’s the flavor you bite into after you get through the crunchy exterior of my cardi fritti.
Serve cardi fritti as part of your antipasti or as a side with meat or chicken.
Oh, and those SF chefs who buy up all the cardoons at the farmers market, here’s Aziza’s Mourad Lahlou’s cardoon salad recipe. So what if it’s not Italian. It’s delicious.
- 1 pound cardoons
- 2 eggs
- 3 tablespoons chopped Italian flat parsley
- ¼ cup grated pecorino
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup flour
- extra virgin olive oil
- canola oil
- Put on a pot of water to boil.
- Cut off the leaves on the cardoon so you're left with only a clean stalk.
- Trim both ends of the cardoon.
- Pull off the tough strings or remove them with a veggie peeler.
- Cut each stalk into 4-inch lengths.
- Put the cardoons in the boiling water and cook until tender.
- Drain the cardoons and set aside to cool.
- Put the eggs, parsley, grated cheese and sea salt and black pepper to taste in a bowl and beat well.
- When the cardoons are cool tear the larger cardoons strips in half.
- Dredge the strips in the flour and coat well, put the strips in the eggwash and then in the breadcrumbs. (Some of the strips will stick together to form "patties" and some will be single stalks.)
- Put a cast iron or heavy-bottomed pan over high-heat and add an inch of the oils (half olive/half canola) .
- When the oil ripples lower the heat to medium and fry the breaded cardoons until golden on both sides.
- Drain on paper towel.
- Serve immediately with a light squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of sea salt.