Cardoons are part of the set of traditional vegetables that have been a cornerstone of traditional Italian cuisine.
Its consumption has been progressively decreasing for several decades. However, the areas where they resist remains highly appreciated: in Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna, for example, but also in other areas, especially in the central-north. The recipe for thistles in sweet and sour sauce that I propose this afternoon is exactly that. traditional Ligurian.
On the other hand, it is also true that It is a very old plant (from which artichokes are derived) that retains its own charm. So much so that thistles appear more and more frequently on the menus of expert and famous chefs. Its particular flavor, halfway between artichoke and celery, lends itself to refined haute cuisine preparations. Even with cooking methods not very different from these cardoons in sweet and sour sauce.
In fact, in haute cuisine it is fashionable to try to enhance “refinedly rustic” flavors, such as that of thistle. Thus the cardoons fried and golden in all possible ways, gratin with butter and parmesan and various sauces, protagonists of cuisines and wise and sometimes daring combinations. Where from time to time even the most traditional recipes appear, revisited. Like this sweet and sour, in fact, which enriches the dish with complex sweet and sour flavors, capable of enhancing and enriching any boiled or roast meat dish.
It should be emphasized that we are talking about one typically Mediterranean plant. In practice I thistles They are only eaten in Italy, Spain and France. With some other areas of diffusion, over time promoted here and there (for example in Australia and Argentina) by Italian or Spanish immigrants.
Furthermore they are an excellent ingredient for contemporary diets: Low in calories (about 20 per 100 g) and rich in minerals and antioxidant substances. Even our cardoons in sweet and sour sauce (with a generous spoonful of sugar to be divided into 4) have a very modest per capita calorie content, totally compatible with a dietary and healthy diet.
Thistles, and especially wild ones, are particularly tough plants: They take time to clean and cook. The exceptions are: humpback thistles white in color (those from Monferrato are famous) that, under certain conditions, can also be consumed raw or lightly blanched. But, in general, thistles require thorough cleaning, to remove all external filaments, and prolonged cooking.
According to cooking schools, The best way to prepare them is the following. Taking into account that humpbacks have a tendency to blacken like and more than artichokes. Therefore, as they are cut, they should always be kept in cold water acidified with lemon juice.
Buys large and compact format thistles (small and young ones are tougher) and light in color: the closer to the target, the better. Discard the leaves and outer parts (which are excellent for soups or broths) and use only the central part, the so-called heart.
Then cut the ribs into pieces 30-40 cm long. remove the toughest fibers, pulling the filaments downwards until they are removed. Alternatively it is using a potato peeler is excellent well sharpened, so that both the filaments and part of the external skin are simultaneously removed.
Now cut the ribs into smaller pieces, as necessary, always keeping them in acidulated water. In the case of our gobbi in sweet and sour sauce, each rib was cut lengthwise down the center (i.e. divided in two) and then cut into pieces about 4cm long.
they go then Boil them by submerging them in clean, already boiling, salted water.with varying times from almost an hour to more than two hoursdepending on the thickness of the ribs and the variety of the plant.
- 1 head of thistles, approximately 1 kg
- 1 clove garlic
- 3 tablespoons white vinegar
- 1 heaped tablespoon of sugar
- 2-3 sage leaves
- 1 lemon
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Clean the tips, filaments and core of the thistles, then cut the ribs into pieces of about 4 cm each. Then cut the wider, thicker pieces in half lengthwise. Thistles blacken quickly, so while you work, toss them in water acidulated with lemon. Attention! Unless you are cooking humpback thistles (white in color and with the characteristic curved hump at the base), common thistles are very leathery plants. If you don’t have experience cooking them, read the box above. Cook the cardoons to perfection..
- Bring plenty of salted water to a boil and add the cardoons as you remove them from the acidified water. Once they come to a boil again, lower the heat and let them cook partially covered until they are tender enough: this usually takes just over an hour. Once finished, drain them, let them cool and place them in the serving bowl.
- Meanwhile, heat plenty of oil in a saucepan (at least 6 heaping tablespoons) and sauté a large clove of crushed garlic and the chopped sage leaves. As soon as the garlic has browned, remove it, turn off the heat and add the vinegar, sugar and a pinch of salt to the oil. Mix well and let it rest until the cardoons in sweet and sour sauce are on the table.
- Just before serving, put the saucepan back on the heat and let it simmer for 10-15 seconds. Then pour the boiling sauce over the cardoons, mix gently and serve.
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