|Posted by William Abruzzo on May 18, 2015 at 10:10 AM|
This week's recipe takes us to Sicily. Cardoons are a type of thistle related to the artichoke. Thye are native to the Mediterranean basin and are a popular vegetable in Italy. In fact, the cardoon has been cultivated on the Italian mainland and Sicily since the days of the Roman Empire. The cardoon looks like an enormous bunch of celery with pale green stalks and feathery leaves. You are sure to see them on display for sale at Palermo's famous Ballaro and Vucciria marketplaces. If you find them at your local vegetable market, be sure to take some home. For a taste of Palermo, try them baked in a casserole with tomatoes and topped with breadcrumbs.
Cardoons (1 large bunch -about1 ¾ to 2 lbs)
Country Style Italian Bread (3 thick slices)
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese (1/3 cup and more for sprinkling)
Eggs (3 extra large)
Flour (for dredging)
Olive Oil (for drizzling)
Corn Oil (for frying)
Whole Peeled or Diced San Marzano Tomatoes (1 can -28 ounces)
Spanish or Vidalia Onion (1/2 small)
Garlic (3 cloves)
Basil (1 ½ tbs -chopped, pressed firm)
Oregano (1 ½ tbs -chopped, pressed firm)
Black Pepper (to taste)
Salt (to taste)
Chop the onion, garlic and herbs. Coat the bottom of a medium sauce pan with olive oil and sauté the onion and garlic until soft. Then, add the diced tomatoes and all of the juice from the can. Slosh ¾ cup of water around in the can and add it to the sauce pan too. Add the herbs, season with black pepper and salt, and simmer the diced tomatoes on a low burner for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, grate enough bread for 2 cups of crumbs loosely packed. Place the crumbs in a mixing bowl, stir in 1/3 cup of grated cheese, and then drizzle with olive oil. Toss the breadcrumb mixture so that it is uniformly moist and fluffy and set the bowl to the side.
Next, prepare the cardoons. Remove the stalks from the bunch and discard the hard inner core and small inner shoot. Strip all of the large leaves from the stalks. Use a paring knife to scrape the small leaves from the edges, and then peel off all of the stringy outer fibers (just as you would do with celery). Chop the stalks into 3 inch chunks. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water boil, add the cardoons to the pot, and boil for 25 minutes.
Drain the cardoons in a colander and allow them to cool for a few minutes. Place the cardoons on your work surface, gently press them flat, and then pat them dry. Beat the eggs with a splash of water. Dredge the cardoons in flour, dip them in egg, and then pass them through the flour a second time. Place ½ inch of olive oil in the bottom of a large deep frying pan. When the oil is hot, fry the cardoons until golden brown, and then set them on paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
Spread some tomatoes on the bottom of an 11 by 8 ½ inch, 2 inch deep, baking dish. Add a layer of cardoons, spread some tomatoes overtop, sprinkle lightly with grated cheese, and then add a second layer of cardoons. Spread over the remaining tomatoes, and then sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture evenly over top. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown on top. Serve hot. Serves 4 to 6 adults.