I can only remember trying cardoons once when I was younger, but I still have fond memories of Nana’s cardoons at Christmastime. My mom always loved them, and so did Nana. Even after my parents split, Nana would always send Cardoons home with me for my mom. Nana’s cardoons were breaded and fried until golden brown, which is a traditional Sicilian preparation of this vegetable.
Cardoons are a thistle plant and are related to artichokes. The flowers produced by the plants are prickly and purple, but much smaller than artichokes. After harvested, cardoons look like celery. In order to prepare them for cooking, there are many steps. First, it is important to remove the ends and stems. Then, it is necessary to peel them. They can be very stringy, so it may be easiest to cut them into more manageable pieces before attempting to peel. Once all the stalks are cut and peeled, the next step will be to boil them in salted water until tender. Boiling serves two purposes; it tenderizes the vegetable while also helping to eliminate the potential bitterness.
Now we can begin the process of breading and frying the cardoons. The first step is to take the boiled cardoons and pat them dry. Then dredge them in flour. From the flour, place them in an egg wash, which consists of a couple eggs and a little bit of milk. Remove the cardoon stalks from the egg mixture, and gently coat with seasoned breadcrumbs. I always add some Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste, and some parsley to my breadcrumb for a little flavor. You can also use Italian breadcrumbs from the store. Of course, I would still add some Parmesan to those.
Now we’re ready to get cooking. Add the cardoons, gently, to a frying pan with about a quarter of an inch of oil on the bottom of the pan, heated to about 350 degrees. Once golden brown on one side, flip carefully and fry until golden brown on the second side. Remove from the oil to a plate covered with a paper towel to drain. These are best served immediately, but of course they can be prepared ahead of time and simply reheated in the oven just before serving. A great addition to our Christmas traditions!
What are your favorite Christmas traditions – old or new? Comment below!