Cardi fritti (Batter-fried Cardoons)

Frankcontorno, Sicilia28 Comments

Cardi fritti (Cardoon Fritters)

Have you ever tried a cardoon? It’s a unique vegetable that looks like an overgrown celery stalk but tastes like an artichoke, to which, in fact, it is related. Cardoons grow easily in a temperate climate. In fact, they grown wild in California. But for some reason they have never really caught on outside Italy and a few other countries around their native Mediterranean basin.

That’s a pity. I think cardoons are perfectly delicious, perhaps even more so than their cousins the artichoke. Like artichokes they are a bit fussy and require a bit of trimming before cooking, which may partially explain why they haven’t caught on. But then what about artichokes? If anything, trimming an artichoke is more work. Go figure…

Anyway, cardoons do make an occasional appearance in our local markets this time of year. And when they do, I grab them immediately. So when they popped up on my Instacart page, I clicked immediately. (That’s today’s equivalent of a grabbing an item, I suppose…)

The other great thing about cardoons is their versatility. They can be made into a soup, simply sautéed, simmered in tomato sauce, gratinéed, even made into a delicious variant of a parmigiana. But perhaps the most enjoyable way to eat them is to deep fry them.

Any long time reader of this blog will know that your faithful correspondent loves anything fried. I’m a firm believer in the Italian saying that “even a shoe tastes good when it’s fried”.

Not that I take that saying literally, mind you… But you will find lots of recipe for fried foods on this blog. Over the years, we’ve explored any number of ways of deep frying vegetables and other goodies (see Notes). In today’s recipe for cardi fritti or Batter-Fried Cardoons, we’re taking a look at yet another method, this time using a yeast-leavened batter. It produces a rather thicker coating than other batters we’ve featured, but turns out a beautifully crisp and perfectly delicious fritter. And, if you take care about the frying (again, see the Notes) the batter won’t be at all heavy or greasy.

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch of cardoons
  • 1 lemon
  • Oil for frying
  • Salt

For the batter:

  • 125g (1 cup) flour
  • 1/2 tsp instant yeast
  • 200-250ml (3/4 – 1 cup) water, more or less
  • Salt

Directions

Mix the flour, yeast and salt together in a mixing bowl. Whisk in enough water to obtain a smooth, pourable batter. Cover the bowl with a towel and let rest in a warm place for at least two hours.

Using a paring knife, trim the cardoons stalks of their leaves and prickly bits along the edges, as well their filaments and any discolored bits. (See this post for details.)

After you finish trimming a stalk, cut it into whatever lengths you like and immediately place the pieces into a large bowl of water which you will have acidulated with a freshly squeezed lemon. (This will prevent the cardoons from discoloring, which, like artichokes, they do quickly if left exposed to the air.)

Boil the cardoons in well salted water (along with a spoonful of flour which is said to help them keep their color) until the pieces are tender with just a trace of “bite”to them and have lost their bitterness, usually about 15-20 minutes (see Notes for details.)

When you’re ready to eat, heat enough oil in a skillet to come up at least 3 cm (1 inch) from the bottom. The oil should be very hot but not smoking.

Dip the cardoon pieces into the batter, let the excess run off and fry them in the hot oil until they are golden brown on both sides. As they are done, transfer the fried cardoon pieces to a baking rack or platter lined with paper towels.

When you’re done, sprinkle the fried cardoons with salt and serve right away, with lemon slices or wedges if you like.

Cardi fritti (Cardoon Fritters)

Notes on Cardi fritti

Cardoons need pre-boiling as they are more or less inedible raw. Raw cardoons aren’t terribly tough, but they are much too bitter to be enjoyable. (And trust me on this, and I actually like vegetables with some bitterness to them!) As mentioned, recipes vary wildly on the time the cardoons should pre-boil. The older recipes all call for rather long boiling times of up to an hour, sometimes even more. It may be that these days cardoons are grown differently, since I find 15-20 minutes is quite enough cooking to remove any bitterness from the vegetable and tenderize them. And you do want them to retain some bite to them, as they will cook again in the hot oil.

As for the oil for frying your cardi fritti, most traditional recipes for cardi fritti call for olive oil. For economy’s sake, I usually use a neutral vegetable oil mixed with some olive oil for flavor, but by all means use all olive oil if your pockets are deep. And don’t believe the hype you may have heard about olive oil having too low a smoking point for frying. Italians have been frying in olive oil for centuries. And anyway, as I said, the oil should be hot but not smoking anyway.

The same tips for frying cardoons go for frying just about any other ingredient. Actually, since you pre-cook the cardoons, frying them is more straightforward then frying other ingredients. No worries about moderating the oil temperature so the inside can cook before the outside gets brown. Here you want to get the oil nice and hot, but not smoking, then fry them up quickly to a golden brown. And make sure you space them well, without crowding the pan, to maintain that high temperature. This will also ensure the batter doesn’t absorb too much oil, which would leave your cardoon fritters greasy.

As for the batter, as you can see, the amount of water is left loose. You need to use your eyes, as a lot of variables go into how much liquid you’ll need to get a smooth, pourable batter. Do be aware that the batter will “liquify” a bit as it rises. And the more liquid you add, the thinner and therefore lighter the crust will be. But if the batter is too liquid, it won’t adhere properly to the cardoons. By trial and error, you’ll find the consistency that’s right for you.

Finally, as for most fried foods, cardi fritti shouldn’t really be made ahead. As the Neapolitans say frijenno e magnanno, or “fry and eat!” Fried foods only get soggy and lose their appeal as they sit around, so tuck into them right away. But if you really must, you can place your pre-made cardi fritti on a baking rack and reheat them in a hot oven. I find that a few minutes at 95C/200F on convection setting—or even better “air fry”—will bring them back to life.

Variations

As mentioned at the top, we’ve looked at many different ways to fry over the years. The main variation comes in the coating that protects the main ingredient from the hot oil, from a very basic light flouring, to Angelina’s way of dipping the ingredient in flour and then beaten egg, to breaded like a cutlet, to batter frying. Batters are a whole subcategory in themselves. We featured batters made with flour and egg, but mostly we’ve examined eggless batters: flour and plain water, with mineral water, and with beer.

If you like, you can use any of these methods for making cardi fritti, other perhaps than the light flouring, which is best left to seafood in my opinion. Otherwise, they’ll be delicious any way you choose.

Cardi fritti

Batter-fried Cardoons
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Italian, Sicilia
Keyword: fried

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch 1 bunch of cardoons
  • 1 1 lemon
  • Oil for frying
  • Salt

For the batter:

  • 125g 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp 1/2 tsp instant yeast
  • 200-250 ml 3/4 – 1 cup water more or less
  • salt

Instructions

  • Mix the flour, yeast and salt together in a mixing bowl. Whisk in enough water to obtain a smooth, pourable batter. Cover the bowl with a towel and let rest in a warm place for at least two hours.
  • Using a paring knife, trim the cardoons stalks of their leaves and prickly bits along the edges, as well their filaments and any discolored bits.
  • After you finish trimming a stalk, cut it into whatever lengths you like and immediately place the pieces into a large bowl of water which you will have acidulated with a freshly squeezed lemon.
  • Boil the cardoons in well salted water (along with a spoonful of flour) until the pieces are tender with just a trace of "bite"to them and have lost their bitterness, usually about 15-20 minutes.
  • When you're ready to eat, heat enough oil in a skillet to come up at least 3 cm (1 inch) from the bottom. The oil should be very hot but not smoking.
  • Dip the cardoon pieces into the batter, let the excess run off and fry them in the hot oil until they are golden brown on both sides. As they are done, transfer the fried cardoon pieces to a baking rack or platter lined with paper towels.
  • When you're done, sprinkle the fried cardoons with salt and serve right away, with lemon slices or wedges if you like.

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28 Comments on “Cardi fritti (Batter-fried Cardoons)”

  1. Frank – I’ve seen cardoons in the markets in Italy, but never here. I would love to try cooking with them if I ever find them. And I’m with you on the frying – it makes anything taste great.

  2. Like many of the commenters here, I must admit that cardoons are new to me. I often wonder why and how the first people tried to cook unusual veggies like this. I am not much of a deep fried lover but your zucchini fritters are one of our favourite little hors d’œuvres that frequent cocktail hour.

  3. Thanks for an educational read, at least for me. Don’t think I’ve ever seen or eaten cardoon, but if it’s deep fried I’m all in. I love deep fried artichoke so I know I’d like this. Once we can get out and about again I’ll be checking with our Middle Eastern greengrocer and see if he gets them.

  4. Huh. Well, this is a new one for me! Which is exactly why I love following blogs! There’s so much to learn. I wish you had included a photo of what the cardoons look like in the raw!

  5. I must admit that cardoons are new to me. I don’t think I’ve ever stumbled across these in our grocery stores – but I’ll definitely keep an eye out. We have several really nice Italian markets in the area, although I haven’t been in them in a while. (We’ve kept things pretty streamlined due to the pandemic.) Like you, I like pretty much everything fried, so I’m really intrigued by this recipe! And interesting thoughts about frying in olive oil – not that I plan on using olive oil due to cost, but still an interesting option. Fun recipe and background, Frank!

    1. I love the taste of olive oil for fried foods! To economize, you might try adding just a bit of olive oil to your regular frying oil. It does enhance the taste. No need for using a finer oil, either. Costco for example has a very affordable olive oil that’s fine for frying and other cooking. I leave the expensive stuff for salads and finishing.

    1. I’ve actually never seen them in Whole Foods around here. But I believe you’re in California? Since they grow there you might have better luck. And since they grow wild, who knows, you could go foraging…!

    1. They’re well worth seeking out, in my opinion. One of my favorite vegetables, and I’m still puzzled why they haven’t caught on.

  6. Years ago, I noticed in my back yard a strange plant I’d never seen before, growing very quickly into a huge, other worldly looking specimen. I thought it looked cool and let it grow. My next door Italian neighbour was very familiar with it and informed me.
    This was all happened when I lived in northwestern Ontario, Canada.

    Now I have the recipe but no plant. Perhaps some day I will be able to use it. Guess it depends on whether or not another plant will volunteer…but I’ve moved since then.

  7. A very interesting ‘read’ ! The name rings bells from a distant past and your plate looks very moreish ! The yeast-batter will lead to homework . . . but since I never deep-fry and but rarely fry perhaps Mr Google telling me I would have to try grow them myself Down Under will take the choice option away . . . . best . . .

    1. Thanks, Eha! It is a shame the cardoons are so… elusive! I’m sure there are parts of Australia where they would grow well.

  8. They are rare to find here, as well, Frank. I will keep my eye out for them because I would love to make these. I’m fascinated by the yeast in the batter… Do you use yeast in other batters for a deep frying? Thanks for sharing another wonderful recipe.

    1. This is actually the first time I’m using a batter leavened with yeast. Usually I just add mineral water or beer to give my batters a little lift. This was also nice, and the slight fermentation did make the batter especially flavorful.

  9. We’ve been using Shipt as our shopping service — just checked, and no cardoons. Alas. Maybe I should use Instacart, too — they shop at the supermarket that has better produce. Anyway, we don’t often have cardoons — just don’t see them that often. And I don’t recall that I’ve ever had them fried. Like you, I’m all in when something fried is presented to me — love it! Haven’t tried a yeast batter — I need to do that. Very nice dish — thanks.

    1. Only one store around here that carries cardoons at the moment is called Wegmans. They have stores along the East Coast but not elsewhere, unfortunately. But some other stores will carry them from time to time. Not really sure what determines the supply, to be honest!

    1. They’re the best, too! And if you like fried baby artichokes, you’re going to love these. I assume cardoons must be easy to find in Spain?

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