PARMIGIANA DI CARDI.
This is a recipe which smells intensely of Christmas to me. It reminds me of my mum, perennially standing in her tiny kitchen, creating complicated wonders. Oddly, she hardly made a sound while cooking for a large party, I could hear her breathing.
It reminds me of how my father and I would sneak into the kitchen to steal the fried stems, subtly aromatic, tender as butter. Those and the mellow leftovers we enjoyed the most, as the rest got confused in the abundance of the holiday banquet.
Artichoke and leafy cardoon are two varieties of the same plant . The first is cultivated for its immature inflorescence – also called globe – and the second for its fleshy stems. The taste of cardoon is reminiscent of celery and artichoke with a hint of bitter which is eliminated by blanching. When buying, make sure to pick those with white stems and without signs of rusty spots
- 2 kg ( 4 lb) fresh cardoons, outer damaged leaves removed
- 1 lemon
- 2 eggs
- 100 gr (3 oz) all-purpose flour
- 250 gr ( 1/2 lb) mild cows cheese like caciotta (use fresh Asiago if not available)
- 1 recipe ragù
- 1 recipe bechamel (white sauce)
- 60 gr (2 oz) grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese
This is a work intensive recipe, I suggest to prepare the cardoons, blanch them and fry them on the first day and make the tomato, bechamel sauce and assemble the parmigiana on the second day.
To clean cardoons, strip the fibres from the stems with a pairing knife, cut them into 5 cm (2 in.) pieces and plunge them in cool water that has been acidulated with the juice of half a lemon.
Add the other half of the lemon to a pan of water you will use to cook the stems. Bring the water to the boil, add 1/2 tablespoon of salt. Blanch until tender but still firm, 20 to 30 min. Meanwhile whisk the eggs in a large bowl.
Drain and rinse in cold water, pat dry and dredge in flour. Transfer the floured cardoons in the eggs and deep fry them in vegetable oil until lightly golden.
Make sure to work in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan. Drain on paper towels and season with salt and pepper.
If you don’t like to fry, line the largest roasting tin you own with parchment paper. Place the cardoons well spaced on a single layer and bake until colored in a preheated oven at 250 °C (480 °F) , turning once.
Make the tomato and bechamel sauce. Slice the caciotta. Prepare all ingredients on your work-top. Butter a 20 x 30 cm (8 x 12 in) gratin dish. You should have enough cardoons to make three layers.
Arrange the cardoons in a single layer at the bottom of the pan. Cover with one third of the sliced cheese and sprinkle one tablespoon of the grated cheese. Drizzle approx. 3 tablespoon of the tomato sauce and 1 and 1/2 tablespoon of the white sauce on the layer. Make sure to use modest amounts of sauce or you will end up with a gloppy soup!
Continue building up the layers ending with Bechamel which will form a lovely crust. Bake in preheated oven at 200° C (390° F) until golden and set, approx. 30 min.
The version in the picture below is vegetarian and gluten-free. I substituted ragù with a simple tomato sauce and regular flour with rice flour. It’s every bit as delicious as the original one, just lighter.
Serves 6 as a main, 8 as a side