Roasted Mushrooms & Cardoons

We had a couple friends over for dinner last night & a little impromptu dinner party. Here’s what the menu was:

red leaf lettuce salad with radish sprouts, long radishes & carrots
lentilles de puy dressed with balsamic vinegar, garlic, and parsley
roasted mushrooms & cardoons
pink risotto with dry jack

grapes, pomegranates, & bosc pears
english cheddar & spanish valdeon cheeses

We drank Jest Red, a totally charming dry fruity California wine from Belvedere Vineyards that Kelly, the Specialty Team Leader at the Fresno WFM recommended to me:
http://www.jestred.com/how.htm

The other half of the cardoon ended up in this. You don’t need a cardoon to make it, though – you could use celery or leeks or nothing else at all and the mushrooms would be great all on their own. I served this over risotto, but it would also be happy to be served over polenta, whole-wheat pasta, or even a soy burger.

Preheat the oven to 500. Yep, 500.

Prepare:
½ a cardoon, strings removed, cut into 1 x 1 in. pieces and placed in acidulated water
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/2 T. olive oil & 1/2 T. butter
1 T. olive oil for roasting

Cook the cardoons until just tender, 10-12 minutes, in boiling salted water, then drain and set aside. Sauté the onion in the olive oil and butter over medium to medium-high heat until browned and softened. Season with salt and set aside.

Drizzle the cardoons with the olive oil and spread on a baking sheet with a rim. Place them in the preheated oven and roast for 6 minutes. Remove from the oven and close the oven door, and stir the cardoons. Season them with salt and return them to the oven for an additional 6 minutes. Remove from the oven and season with pepper.

Combine:
1 lb. cremini mushrooms, cleaned, stems sliced flush with the caps
2 T. olive oil or melted butter
salt
freshly ground pepper

Follow the same roasting and seasoning procedure for the mushrooms, but dressing them with 2 T. olive oil, cooking them with the rounded side up for the first 6 minutes, and with the gills up for the second 6 minutes. Combine with the cardoons and onions.

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Risotto

This is an easy one.

Heat:
8 c. vegetable stock until simmering.
Prepare:
1 large onion, finely chopped
and sauté over medium heat in 1-2 T. butter or olive oil until golden in places. Toss in some chili flakes at the end of the sautéing if you’re like me and think almost everything needs chili flakes.
Add:
2 c. arborio rice
and cook, stirring, until the edges of the rice are translucent.
Add:
½ c. dry white wine (I am perfectly happy to use red if that’s all that’s around – the risotto does come out pink, though it tastes good.)
and cook over medium heat until the wine evaporates. At that point, add 1 c. of vegetable broth and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s absorbed. Continue adding a cup of stock at a time and cooking, stirring occasionally, until it’s absorbed, until you get to the last cup or so of stock. At that point, add:
1 c. grated hard cheese (I use Dry Jack most often, but Gruyere, Romano, or Aged Gouda would also work. Parmigiano-Reggiano is too much for risotto, I think – it gets kind of bitter.)
and then taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as necessary. At this point, you can zig and zag with risotto as desired, leaving it plain, or adding fresh herbs and/or vegetables. When your additions are complete, add a splash of wine and the last of the stock and serve piping hot.

Cardoon Update

I’m still trying to figure out what to do with the remainder of my cardoon. There’s still quite a lot there. I found the one cookbook I have that makes reference to them – Cooking Vegetables the Italian Way – and even it doesn’t actually have a recipe. It just explains what they are and that you have to drop them in acidulated water when preparing them. I guess I’m on my own. Cardoon Polenta? Cardoon Risotto? Cardoon Gelato?

Minestrone con Cardoni

So I found some cardoons (cardoni in Italian) before Thanksgiving at Whole Foods and got one. I’d never seen them for sale before – I’d only read about them. They were $1.99 apiece (cheap!) and they were gigantic – probably 18 inches long and more than 5 lbs. They look like some sort of monster celery and are related to artichokes. Never having cooked a cardoon before, I went out on the web to see if I could find any advice. The first thing I learned is that they need a bit of special handling, like artichokes do. After they’re cut, they need to be dropped into acidulated water to prevent browning, just like artichokes. (This cardoon didn’t brown with the same astonishing speed that an artichoke does, though.) I found a variety of recipes, mostly antipasto and baked dishes, and many of them involved eggs or anchovies. Since both those ingredients are outside my list, I kept looking. There were some soups that could be made vegetarian with the removal of several ingredients, and there was a recipe that was basically cardoons in white sauce. Having had plenty of white sauce this week, I decided to pass on that. I nosed around in the kitchen. The ingredients on hand included everything necessary to make minestrone, so I thought I’d use part of the cardoon for that – because if we didn’t like them terribly well, it wouldn’t be as if we had a whole dish of just cardoons to choke down.

It turned out to be insanely good. Michael and I both had seconds. The cardoons become very tender and contribute a wonderful light vegetal flavor similar to artichokes. I highly recommend you try this if you can find yourself a cardoon. If you can’t, artichoke bottoms would be the closest substitute – you’d probably need two cans’ worth, chopped in inch-square pieces.

For the soup:
1.5 c. small white beans (navy or great northern), soaked for 8 hours or overnight
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
abundant olive oil
red pepper flakes

3 carrots, chopped into 1 in. long pieces
3 ribs celery, chopped into 1 in. long pieces, leaves included (pull some more off the unused stalks for good measure – you’ll probably throw them away otherwise, right?)
3 cardoon ribs, strings removed (cut down the outside of the rib with a paring knife), then cut lengthwise to about the width of celery, then into 1 in. long pieces
1 – 28 oz. Can Muir Glen Roasted Tomatoes, chopped or food-processed briefly
1½ tsp. dried rosemary
plenty of black pepper

To finish:
a couple handfuls small pasta (shells, ditali, orzo, etc.)
2 c. rapini or broccoli raab greens, torn into 1 in. square pieces
the stems that went with the greens, cut into 1 in. lengths – split if thick
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 c. parsley, minced
a splash of red wine vinegar
salt

Sauté the onion in plenty of olive oil over medium-high heat until translucent. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes to taste, and stir briefly. Add the remainder of the soup ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the beans are tender, 1 to 1½ hours. If using a pressure cooker, bring to pressure and cook for 25 minutes. Reduce pressure with running water.

Once the beans are cooked, add the pasta, greens, and stems and cook until the pasta is tender. Then add the garlic, parsley, vinegar, and salt to taste. Serve with crusty bread or croutons.

Polenta

An exchange in my office lunchroom:
“Wow, what smells so good?”
“My polenta.”
“What’s polenta?”
“Cornmeal mush! Doesn’t that sound great?!”

Polenta is popular. You can get it in a tube or in quick-cooking versions now, but it’s easy to make yourself and you have ingredient flexibility if you do – you can add fresh herbs, garlic, & different cheeses to arrive at an end result that’s unlike the dull tubular stuff. I don’t limit polenta to a traditional tomato-sauce topping – it can be good friends with sautéed greens, spicy black beans and salsa, or just a big pile of steamed broccoli. This recipe makes a massive amount – feel free to cut it in half if you don’t need a massive amount. I tend to make a lot at a time because I like it both soft and solidified – some now and some later. If you want to serve the solidified polenta slices, you need to start the process the day before or at least early the day you want to serve them. I suggest an unconventional soaking technique – I’ve found that it cuts the stovetop cooking time by better than half and the polenta also sticks a lot less, which is otherwise a problem. The difference between 50 and 20 minutes over a pot alone is pretty dramatic on a weeknight, even if it didn’t result in stick-reduction. Just measure out the polenta and water when you pour your cereal in the morning and you’ll be all set when you get home.

Combine in a large bowl and let soak for several hours:

2 c. Bob’s Red Mill Corn Grits – Polenta (you can find it on the baking aisle of a good supermarket, Whole Foods, or health food store – you can also use coarse-ground cornmeal, which is whole grain, as opposed to polenta, which is degerminated)
2 c. water

Heat in a large, deep saucepan: (seriously deep – polenta boils like a mud pit)

2 T. butter or olive oil

Add:

1 large onion, chopped fine
some chili flakes
and sauté until the onion is translucent and starting to brown slightly. Pour in the soaked polenta and its soaking water, and add 4 c. water. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, until the polenta is thick and the water has been largely absorbed – about 20 minutes. In the meantime, grate:
2 c. Dry Jack or other cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano, other Italians, Swisses, Cheddars, goat, blue, all fine. Goat or blue will require less volume of cheese, obviously. I use Dry Jack because it’s made with vegetable rennet.)

Remove the polenta from the heat and add the cheese, plus pepper and salt to taste. It will need plenty of both. If it doesn’t taste like anything, keep salting and peppering until it does. Serve hot.

To make polenta slices, spread the finished soft polenta evenly in a baking sheet with a rim. Place in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight. It will harden into a sheet that can be sliced. Slice it and broil it bottom side up first, on a greased cookie sheet until it’s spotted with brown. Then flip it over and broil the other side.