Guess what’s in the photo? Celery? Look again, but more closely. It’s cardoon (“kardoen” in Dutch, “cardo” in Italian and Spanish, or “cardon” in French). It is closely related to artichokes, and that is also what it tastes like. It is a typical winter vegetable that is in season from November to February.
A classic way to prepare cardoon in Piemonte, Italy is to bake them in the oven with white sauce (besciamella) and parmigiano. The creamy white sauce balances out the slight bitterness of the cardoon.
For 4 servings as a side
1 kilo (2.2 lbs) cardoon
bechamel sauce made using 250 ml (1 cup) milk, 25 grams (2 Tbsp) of butter and 25 grams (2 1/2 Tbsp) of flour
freshly grated parmigiano
freshly grated nutmeg
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp breadcrumbs
2 Tbsp butter
lemon juice, to prevent the cardoon from discoloring
Start by cleaning the cardoon stalks. Remove any leaves and trim the ends. Cut them into lengths that will fit into the oven dish you intend to use. With a small knife, remove the tough filaments by starting at one end and pulling them off. Then do the same from the other end. Put the cleaned pieces of cardoon in water with some lemon juice to prevent discoloring.
Keep going until you have finished all of the cardoon.
Now parboil the cardoon in salted water until tender but still firm to the bite, about 30 minutes. You could also pressure cook them in half the time.
Drain the cardoon and make the white sauce using these instructions. Season the besciamella to taste with salt, freshly ground pepper, and a dash of freshly grated nutmeg.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F. Butter an oven dish and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Arrange half of the cardoon stalks on the bottom of the dish.
Drizzle with half of the white sauce and sprinkle generously with freshly grated parmigiano reggiano.
Arrange the remaining half of cardoon stalks on top.
Cover with the remaining white sauce and a generous layer of freshly grated parmigiano. Dot with butter.
Bake at 200C/400F until golden, about 30 to 40 minutes. Allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
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