Friday, May 1, 2009

Cardoon Gratin with Meyer Lemon and Thyme Béchamel Recipe

My husband and I were remiss in signing up for our food coop shifts in advance, and so, in order to avoid being suspended from shopping, signed up for two-in-a-row 5:30 am produce stocking shifts. It wasn't awful; the store is closed, so shoppers weren't banging into our knees with their carts while we stocked blood oranges or daikon radishes, and we felt as if we had the full day ahead of us when our shift was finished at 8 am.

During the shift, and while organizing the red peppers, I saw a sign for cardoons hanging over an empty bin. I was anxious to retry this unusual vegetable after my cardoon fiasco in France two Decembers ago, so when the box arrived for us to stock, I was thrilled. Eating them for the first time, all smothered in gruyère, at one of Lyon's famous bouchons, I adored how (though different in look and texture), they evoked the artichoke, and when I saw them at the market, their sturdy stalks like celery on growth hormone, I was eager to make them myself. I failed. It happens.

This time, following the directions on the label, and hoping to rid them of their bitterness, I soaked the branches for a few hours in water, and then, inspired by flavors I'd use in a vinaigrette for an artichoke dipping sauce, I made a meyer lemon, garlic and thyme béchamel. I poured this over the cooked cardoons and topped them with lemony breadcrumbs and gruyère cheese, and baked them until bubbly and golden brown. My husband loved it. I thought it was fine. The flavors in the béchamel were overtaken by the strong cardoons, so next time I might add a bit more lemon and thyme. In the future, (and because the vegetable gave off a little more water than I expected), I'd leave the béchamel on the thicker side before baking the whole thing in the oven. Otherwise, not bad for a second attempt, but not Lyon bouchon worthy, either. I'll keep working on it.

Cardoon Gratin with Meyer Lemon and Thyme Béchamel

1 1/2 lbs cardoons (or one bunch), cut into 3 inch lengths
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups of milk
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon (or more) fresh thyme leaves
1/2 (or 1) meyer lemon, juiced (if you use a regular lemon, you will need less of it, as meyer lemons are a bit sweeter)
3 slices stale bread (I used spelt bread)
1/4 cup gruyère cheese, grated
zest of 1/2 lemon (use the one you used for the juice)
salt and pepper
drizzle of olive oil

Soak the cut-up cardoons in some cold water for a couple of hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Put the cardoons in a large pot of salted, cold water. Bring the water to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook them until they are fork tender, but not mushy. Set aside.

For the breadcrumbs:

Make crumbs out of the bread slices by mixing them in a food processor. Combine the crumbs with the lemon zest and the gruyère, and a little salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside.

For the béchamel:

Heat the butter in a saucepan until melted. Whisk in the flour, and cook for a couple of minutes, whisking constantly, until the flour turns light golden brown. Slowly whisk in the milk, a little at a time, taking care that the sauce doesn't form lumps. When all the milk is incorporated, add the garlic and thyme, and bring the milk to a low boil. Immediately lower the heat to a simmer (you don't want to scorch the milk), and keep whisking as the sauce thickens. If the sauce seems too thick, add a little more milk. Remove from the heat, and stir in the lemon juice and salt, to taste.

Put the cardoons into a baking dish and pour the béchamel sauce over them. Top with the breadcrumb mixture, and drizzle a little olive oil all over the top.

Bake in the oven until the top is golden, and the béchamel is bubbly.


lila said...

Banu, you are indeed multi-talented! I knew this when you were 8 years old. You write, cook, and dance beautifully! Can't wait to try some of your recipes... I assume they're also "dancer body friendly".

Banu said...

Yes, Lila, most of my recipes are dancer figure friendly (although I'm known to indulge in richer ingredients from time to time), so go ahead! Thank you so much for the nice comments. Please let me know how the recipes turn out if you try any!

foofwa d'Imobilité said...

hi i love that you are a bit self-deprecating, you sound very honest and it makes us the readers identify with you. you are clearly making some amazingly yummy things but you are also sometimes not perfect which is endearing. i also love some of the writing and some of the effective images you use. great!!! oh and i still have the memory of that special cardoon taste, with the amazing bread crumbs and lemon, garlic, thyme béchamel!!!

Fast Forward said...

I've never cooked cardoon, but I happened to see it today in chinatown. Now that you have twigged me to it, I'll snap some up and wrestle with it. Do you need to strip it like celery or rhubarb? I'm a big fan of buying things that I have no idea what they are. I bought some Callaloo last week (amaranth) and steamed it up - yummy!

Banu said...

Cool, Fast. Let me know how it turns out!