Monday, May 01, 2006

Let the Cardoons Begin!

It’s Day One of the Eat Local Challenge, and here in Cookiecrumb’s Playhouse, we have appointed a theme for our month: The Barbary Coast Kitchen.
We won’t be strict adherents to antique eating, but wherever possible or whenever it just seems like the right thing to do, we’re going to re-create menus, using local ingredients, from the Gaslight Era in San Francisco. Turn of the Century. Earthquake time. Native ranchos. Old Chinatown. Like that.
I know for certain that those who could afford to do so in San Francisco a hundred years ago loved dining on imported extravagances, like pineapples, terrapin, coconut. We’re not going to be doing that. We’re not going to be dressing in Edwardian costumes, either, belting out “Open your Golden Gate!”
In fact, we’re going to have a little fun with the recipes of yore, all the while delving into a historical tradition that will be fun to – uh – delve into.
Today we’ve taken a venerable dish, Celery Victor, and reinterpreted it as Cardoons Victor.
When Cranky took his first taste, he called it Cardoons Loser.
He said, “Let the cardoons end!”
Oddly, he kept nibbling and totally came around to it.
Celery Victor is a dish of celery boiled in broth and served cold with vinaigrette and (optionally) hard-boiled eggs, created by Chef Victor Hirtzler of San Francisco’s St. Francis Hotel (he published a cookbook in 1910).
Cardoons look something like celery. There the similarity ends, however, because it turns out cardoons are molto bitter. I think I should have trimmed the leaves off before I simmered the stalks.
After my first couple of bites, I said, “This is like smoking a cigarette. No, it’s like eating a cigarette.”
But cardoons are related to artichokes, and once you get past the – well, we ended up calling it “sophisticated” – bitterness, there’s a lot to like.
I actually hit the “Mm” stage. Every time I’d take a bite, another “Mm” would erupt. Then I achieved the elusive “golden taste” that eating artichokes leaves in my mouth: a sweet, mysterious I-don’t-know-what.
Not sure I’m going to try cardoons again, though. Jeez, you buy a bunch the size of a Body Snatcher pod, trim it, cook it, and you end up with an appetizer. And I’ve learned that cardoons are considered a noxious pest – a weed – in Northern California because they spurt seeds so readily. (Wait. Weed? Foraging? Did somebody say foraging?)
Anyway. How do you like that rummage-sale celery plate the food's on?

Sources: Cardoons from Mariquita Farm, Watsonville, CA. Vegetable broth from my freezer, made from local stuff in 2005. Herbs from my patio. Olive oil from McEvoy, Petaluma, CA. Habanero flakes from Happy Quail Farms, East Palo Alto, CA. Egg from Triple T Ranch, Santa Rosa, CA. Vinegar from Kitchen Line, Sonoma, CA. Mustard from Tulocay’s, Napa Valley, CA. Salt… Well, let’s talk about the salt another time, shall we?


Dagny said...

*sigh* I miss Victor's.

kudzu said...

Cookie -- I admire your spunk. Marcella (Hazan, whom I trust implicitly) says to use only b-a-b-y
cardoons, or if you must use an older stalk, use only the heart of the bunch, as you would with celery. Never leaves. Maybe the ensuing dish would not be Cardoon Loser, then!

I have seen it cooked (boiled, steamed) first, then sliced and dipped into batter and fried. But still, it was with younger plants.


Tea said...

I had mediocre results with my cardoons as well. I had heard they were good with bagna cauda and also in a gratin. I blanched them and tried the gratin, mixing them with some pancetta (got hooked on the idea of cardoons and lardoons) in a white sauce with parmesan on the top. Okay, but nothing to write home (or blog) about. Still have some in the fridge, might try a bagna cauda (Italian dip for vegetables of olive oil, anchovies, and garlic).

cookiecrumb said...

Tea, was that the Alice Waters gratin recipe? Also, yeah, I'd heard of the bagna cauda route... Hm.
So you blanched yours. I shoulda done that. A couple times.
Cardoons and lardoons. Cute. Did you have Lorna Doones for dessert?

kudzu said...

And did you drink Bonny Doon's wines?

cookiecrumb said...

With our macaroons. While old Muldoon played the big bassoon.
And our waistlines ballooned.

rae said...

cardoons. tried them over thanksgiving and just couldn't learn to love the little guys. to me they tasted like a kinda bitter celery with maybe just a tiny taste of artichoke. maybe it was the way i prepared them...

cookiecrumb said...

OK, well, then, RIP cardoons.
Unless I stumble across some wild ones (young, tender, small... then I might try again... free food, y'see).
I will say, though, that the vinaigrette and egg was a great palliative.
But who needs foods that needs palliatives?
Vinaigrette and egg: that's enough right there.

Jamie said...

I love your concept for the ELC!

We have one cardoon plant that I kind of wish we could get rid of...okay, I actively wish it ill. Last year I never got around to blanching it, and then it got all gigantic and attracted weird red beetles. Then I cut it back drastically and moved it to a flowerbed, where it suffered along, never dying but never thriving. Dug it up and moved it again only to find that it has been managing to live with about 10 slugs attached to its roots.

Now it just looks like *ss. I think I am going to compost it.

Kevin said...

That brings back childhood memories of the Saturday morning cardoon shows.

cookiecrumb said...

Jamie: Be sure you don't compost the seedhead, if there's one present. My dad composted a pumpkin once many years ago. Guess what he ended up with? :D

Kevin: Didn't anybody around here watch Pee-Wee's Playhouse back in the 80s? The King of Cartoons would stride in and announce in his stentorian voice, "Let the Cartoooooons... Begin!"

Jennifer Maiser said...

Cookiecrumb -

Seriously. How cool is that picture?!? Love it.

Tea said...

CC and Kudzu--you guys are cracking me up!

No, I didn't use the Chez P recipe. I took a look at the Mariquita website, where they have a recipe (cardoon and potato gratin), but as I didn't have potatoes or half and half in the house I made up my own--blanched peeled cardoon pieces, pancetta that had been cut into small pieces and cooked, then a bechamel sauce with freshly grated parm. If I were to do it again I would add some orecchiette or something to cut the strong flavors.

Oh, and I blanched the cardoons in water with a lemon squeezed into it and then threw in the lemon halves as well. Wasn't sure if I should have peeled the cardoons before or after blanching (ended up doing about half before and half after), but found out that I lost a good portion of the vegetable in the peeling. I agree that baby cardoons might be worth a try, but not the full grown ones.

Have you checked out Derrick's post on cardoons at SFist? He seems to love them.

Kevin said...


"Didn't anybody around here watch Pee-Wee's Playhouse back in the 80s?"

Not me.

And Happy B'day!

gargantua said...

I would love to know which Katz Kitchen Line Vinegars you used, and the proportion of oil to vinegar.



cookiecrumb said...

Yo, Gargantua: It was a Chardonnay vinegar. Very nice. Not sure it's still available, though I did find one in a decent store not long ago, so there's hope.
Ratio? Ohgod. Totally up to you. The rule is more oil, less vinegar. Two to one, maybe. I have a "sour tooth," though, so I fiddle.
Just fiddle!