Bitter cover – what is it?

By | Cardoons, Cookbooks | 3 Comments

I love the cover of my new book, it has no dust jacket. There are strong feelings about dust jackets. Some people remove them immediately, others take them off  to read the book putting them back on when they’ve finished. That doesn’t really work for cookbooks, well I hope it doesn’t for mine, I like to think people not only read them, but constantly use them. Currently it’s popular to produce cookery books without dust jackets, although this is not new. Stephanie Alexander’s fabulous The Cook’s Companion first published in 1996 for example, although the gold lettering is disappearing. More recent naked cookbooks are those by Nigel Slater and Yottam Ottolenghi. Read More


By | Cardoons, Paris | 2 Comments
One of my favourite places in Paris is the Luxembourg Gardens. This photo was taken in the autumn when cardoons were part of the flower borders, I’ve also seen them in Parc Montsouris. I wanted to sneak back late in the evening to harvest a few stalks, but the gardens, wisely,  are closed at night.
As you can see from the cardoon flowers they’re a close relative of the artichoke. The cardoon heads, before they flower, are edible, however cardoons are grown for their large fleshy stalks. I love their earthy, artichoke taste. The dried flowers provide a vegetarian rennet for making cheese. 

Cardoons are not easy to find, but at the beginning of the month, they turned up in my market right there next to the puntarelle, I love living in an Italian neighbourhood, and of course they came from California. Now there’s no denying cardoons take work. While the big outside leaves, that can have prickles, and the tops are trimmed, the remaining leaves, which are very bitter, must be removed. Then the coarse strings on the outside of the stems need to be pulled off, use a knife or a vegetable peeler, it’s just like stringing celery. As cardoons brown quickly, place the prepared stems in a bowl of acidulated water.

Then cook them in boiling salted water until tender, they take about 25 minutes, depending on their size and age. Once cooked, drain them and dress them with a vinaigrette, add to a potato salad, or cover them with cheese sauce and make a gratin. A good way for a novice to try them.

In Piedmont cardoons are served raw with bagna calda, a dip made with lots of garlic, anchovies, olive oil and butter. The cardoons in North America are larger and more bitter so most people prefer them cooked. It’s not the bitterness that stops me, I love bitter melon, it’s the texture of the larger stems that are often hollow in the centre. The small, velvety, centre stems, if you take the time to peel them completely, are crunchy, juicy and pleasantly bitter. Perfect to dip in bagna calda.

Cardoons deserve to be more popular. If you see them in your market give them a try, they may look like celery on steroids, but they’re a much more interesting and complex vegetable.