Cardoon, a vegetable that turns up at the festive Christmas Eve meal in Spanish homes. Known in Spanish as cardo, the cardoon and its closest relative, the artichoke, are thistles. The flower bud of the artichoke is eaten, while it is the high stems of the cardoon. The first time I saw cardoon was on the still lifes of Juan Sánchez Cotán (early 17th century). Structurally interesting, but are they edible?
Cardoon is grown in the northern regions of Aragón, La Rioja, and Navarra, so that’s where this vegetable is most popular at Christmas. But when I saw the stately stems at a local grocery store last week, I couldn’t resist trying it.
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 flour into ½ cup water and add it to a large saucepan with 8 cups water and 1 ½ teaspoon salt.
- Squeeze ½ lemon into the pan of water and add the lemon as well.
- To prepare the cardoon, discard the tough outer stems. Separate all the stems from the base.
- Use a knife or vegetable peeler to remove the strings on the outside of each cardoon stem and the thin skin on the insides of the stems.
- When peeled, rub each stem with the sliced lemon.
- Cut it into 3-inch pieces and drop them into the bowl with the lemon juice.
- When the cardoons are ready, bring the pan of water with the flour and lemon juice to a boil.
- Add the cardoon, cover and simmer until the cardoon is cooked through when pierced with a knife, 45 to 60 minutes.
- Remove from heat and let cool in the cooking liquid.
- If you cook the cardoons in advance, keep them in the fridge with the cooking liquid. Drain well before continuing with the recipe.
- Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the almonds and garlic until lightly toasted and golden brown. Skim them off.
- Set aside a dozen almonds to use as a garnish.
- Place the rest in a blender with the garlic and some of the chicken stock. Mix until smooth.
- Stir the remaining ½ tablespoon of flour into the oil in the pan and 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, be careful not to oversalt the sauce).
- Cover and gently cook the cardoons for about 30 minutes.
- Place in a serving bowl and scatter over the reserved almonds. Serve hot sprinkled with pimentón (paprika) or, for a luscious touch, a few threads of golden saffron.