Thursday, December 24, 2009

A unique vegetable side dish for Christmas: Gobbo alla Parmigiana (Cardoons Parmesan)

Before I came to Italy I'd never seen or tasted a cardoon and now, a quarter of a century later, I cannot imagine a Christmas meal without them. We love cardoons so much that we'll be serving them at our bed and breakfast both Christmas eve and Christmas day: delicious!
Cardoons are a classic Christmas vegetable in central and northern Italy. They resemble a celery, but taste like a mild artichoke. Cardoons and artichokes are both thistles from the Aster family. So what's gobbo? Gobbo is a cardoon that as a tender young plant has been bent to its side and buried. The plant then grows to maturity underground and consequently is milky white and very tender.
They're not easy to clean though. First of all you need to remove the thread-like filaments from the outside of the stalks. There's also a layer that should be removed from the inside of each stalk. If this part of the plant isn't properly removed the cardoons will be difficult to chew. You'll find the cardoons easier to work with if you cut the stalks into eight inch pieces.
Keep the cardoons in acidulated water (water and lemon juice) as you work otherwise they will become brown.

Once you're done drain the cardoons, pat dry and lightly flower.

Fry the cardoons until tender and golden. Drain on paper bags.

At this stage you can salt the cardoons and eat as is, but our traditional Christmas dish is Cardoons Parmesan (yes, almost like eggplant parmesan). We prefer to use gobbo, but they are harder to come by and much pricier.
Prepare a tasty tomato sauce (peeled tomatoes, olive oil and garlic), a bechamel sauce, grate some mozzarella and some parmesan cheese. Layer your ingredients in a baking pan: tomato sauce, cardoon, mozzarella, bechamel, parmesan. (I use an icing bag to distribute the bechamel).

Bake the cardoons about 45 minutes in a 350 F (175 C) pre-heated oven and serve immediately. If you want to prepare this dish in advance you can freeze it just prior to baking. It's one of the most delectable dishes immaginable!

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