1 ½ tablespoons Flour
2-3 pounds cardoons
3 tablespoons Olive Oil
½ cup skinned almonds
2 cloves garlic
1 ½ cups Chicken Stock
Pimentón (paprika)or saffron to finish
Cardoons, a vegetable that turns up at the festive Christmas Eve meal in Spanish homes. Known as cardo in Spanish, the cardoon and its close relative, the artichoke, are thistles. The flower bud of the artichoke is eaten, while it is the tall stalks of the cardoon. The first time I ever saw cardoons was in the still-life paintings by Juan Sánchez Cotán (early 17th century). Structurally interesting, but are they edible?
Cardoons are grown in the northern regions of Aragón, La Rioja, and Navarra, so that is where this vegetable is most popular at Christmas. But, last week when I spied the stately stalks at a local grocery store, I couldn’t resist having a go.
How to Make Cardoons with Almond Sauce:
- Place the juice of 1 lemon in a bowl with about 4 cups of water. Cut the other lemon in half.
- Stir 1 tablespoon of the flour into ½ cup of water and add it to a large pot with 8 cups of water and 1 ½ teaspoons salt.
- Squeeze ½ lemon into the pot of water and add the lemon too.
- To prepare the cardoons, discard the hard outer stalks. Separate all the stalks from the base.
- Use a knife or vegetable peeler to remove the strings on the outside of each stalk of cardoon and the thin skin on the inside of the stalks.
- Rub each stalk as it is peeled with the cut lemon.
- Cut it into 3-inch pieces and drop them into the bowl with the lemon juice.
- When the cardoons are prepared, bring the pan of water with the flour and lemon juice to a boil.
- Add the cardoons, cover and simmer until the cardoons are tender when pierced with a knife, 45 to 60 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and allow to cool in the cooking liquid.
- If cooking the cardoons in advance, refrigerate them with the cooking liquid. Drain well before proceeding with the recipe.
- Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the almonds and garlic until they are lightly toasted and golden. Skim them.
- Set aside a dozen almonds to use as garnish.
- Place the remainder in a blender with the garlic and some of the chicken stock. Blend until smooth.
- Stir the remaining ½ tablespoon of flour into the oil in the skillet and let it cook for 2 minutes.
- Stir in the drained cardoons, the almond mixture from the blender, the remaining stock, and ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste (if the stock is salty, take care not to over-salt the sauce).
- Cover and cook the cardoons gently about 30 minutes.
- Place in a serving bowl and scatter the reserved almonds on top. Serve hot sprinkled with pimentón (paprika) or, for an opulent touch, a few threads of golden saffron.