Revered in France and especially Italy for its slightly bitter and herby flavor, the cardoon has only recently begun to make a name for itself on local menus. The fact that this close relative of the globe artichoke looks like a giant head of celery that’s been run through the wringer can’t have helped. Most of the cardoons you find at specialty shops like Chelsea Market’s Manhattan Fruit Exchange are trucked in from California, but Jim Grillo of Greenmarket’s Northshire Farms sells the ones he grows upstate every Saturday in late spring and then again in the fall at Union Square. Get there early before he runs out—the competition among first-generation Italian-Americans and Italian expats is fierce, says Grillo—and then try them in this classic Piedmontese recipe from al di là’s Anna Klinger.
Anna Klinger’s Cardoons With Fonduta
1 large bunch cardoons
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon salt
4 cups milk
8 ounces butter (or truffle butter, optional)
4 ounces (3/4 cup) flour
6 ounces Fontina cheese, grated
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
(1) Slice the cardoons across the base and trim the tips, removing leaves and any brown edges. Discard any hollow stalk, retaining only the firm pale-green ones. With a vegetable peeler, peel the stalks, removing the tough strings. (2) Cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces, and place in a bowl of cold water along with the lemon juice. Leave to soak overnight or for at least six hours in the refrigerator. Drain and place in a large pot with fresh cold water with a pinch of salt. Bring to boil and simmer until tender (depending on the cardoons, this might take anywhere from a half-hour to an hour), and drain. While the cardoons are cooking, preheat the oven to 375 and make the sauce: In a saucepot, add the salt to the milk and gently heat. In a 4-quart saucepot, melt the butter over low heat. Slowly sprinkle flour into the melted butter, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to avoid lumps. When the mixture is smooth and shiny, begin to add the warm milk a little at a time, again stirring constantly. Continue to heat and stir until mixture is almost at a boil. Add the grated Fontina and allow it to melt into the sauce. Place the cardoons in a bowl and strain the sauce into the bowl, mixing well with the cardoons. (3) Arrange cardoons in a buttered gratin dish. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan and bake until golden brown, about a half-hour.