Cardoon au gratin
Typically this is an Italian dish, but some parts of southern France, and Spain also have a traditional dish of Cardoon au Gratin. Some recipes use a roux and a good strong hard cheese, others use a pot of creme fraiche and some grated gruyere cheese. My preference is with a roux, as per the recipe below.
First, choose the lightest coloured cardoon, the greener it is, the more likely it will be bitter. Secondly, peel the back of the stalks before cooking them. Be careful, because a cardoon is a thistle, and just like an artichoke it has thorns, albeit quite small. They are located on the edges of the stalks and need to be trimmed. Also, cardoons need to boil in a large pan of water for 30-40 minutes until very tender.
1 cardoon, or jar of cooked cardoons
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups of milk
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, or hard cheese of your choice
If you’re using a jar of cardoon, go straight to making the roux.
Fill a pot with at least 6 quarts of water, place over high heat and bring to a boil.
Separate the stalks of the cardoon from the heart and trim away any leaves. Cut off a sliver from the top and bottom of each stalk. Use a vegetable peeler to peel the backs of the stalks to remove the outer layer of skin and any tough strings. Trim the heart so only the white inner part remains. Cut the stalks into 6-inch long pieces and rinse in cold water.
Add 1 tablespoon of salt to the boiling water and put in the cardoon. Cover the pot and boil until tender, 30-35 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425° on the convection setting, or to 450° on regular bake.
While the cardoon is cooking, make a roux with the butter, flour and milk. Season to taste, and add a dash of lemon juice if you like.
Drain the cardoon and place in a baking dish in a single layer. Season, and then add the roux to the dish. Sprinkle with cheese, and add a thin later of breadcrumbs on top.
Bake until the cheese melts and the top is toasty brown, 15 - 25 minutes. Serve hot as a side dish.
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