Thursday, 30 October 2014

Thistles for Supper!

Frittata di Cardi, Gratinata alla Mollica & Ricotta Salata Croccante
Crispy Bread Crumb-Topped Cardoon Frittata with Salted Ricotta


There are few things more typically Sicilian than cardoons, when it comes to favorite Winter vegetables- and yet they remain practically unknown to most of the rest of the world! Well, that's not strictly true, as the rest of Italy and France are also quite partial to them- but be honest... have you ever tried them before? If not, as long as you are not afraid of a little work in preparing them- you have an great discovery ahead of you my friends! And a delicious one at that!

These relatives of the artichokes that we are all familiar with, are basically a very similar plant, different only in that they do not produce the blossom that we know of as our eating artichokes... instead, it is the thorny stalks themselves that are so delicious- once they have been prepared of course!


There are 2 main ways that cardoons are eaten in Sicily- one dish is made of the simple, boiled cardoons, drizzled with oil and vinegar, simply seasoned with salt and pepper and maybe sprinkled with a little oregano- and the other is boiled, cooled-down and fried in a egg and flour batter, seasoned with Parmesan cheese and a little nutmeg. So of course, I did something different with mine this evening.

For my dish I needed 1 small bunch of cardoons, 2 eggs, about 1 cup of bread crumbs, 1 cup of grated salted Ricotta cheese, a little milk, 1 Spring onion, a little parsley and salt, pepper and nutmeg to season.

Adding a crispy topping and finishing the frittata off by baking it in the oven, made this just a little but special and a whole lot more delicious! It had all of the good things going for it that the regular battered cardoons have- but that crunchiness is a pretty awesome addition- especially when paired with the Ricotta rather than Parmesan- Yes! Another winner for you to try out my friends!

The first thing I suggest you do, is to cut the cardoons in half- just to make them easier to handle- they do tend to be rather large! And whilst we are o the subject of handling... be careful of those little thorns!

These little devils need to be treated with a little caution! But no- there is no need to wear gloves or anything as drastic as that- the best thing to do is to slice away the thorny edges right from the beginning.

Don't let this next picture alarm you... but yes! it IS quite a lot of work to peel away all of those tough sinews from the outside of the stalks and you do end up throwing away almost as much as you keep... but it's worth it! You may have a super-fantastic vegetable peeler that will work for you, but I found that it was quicker and easier to used a regular knife- be very thorough though! You will not do yourselves any favors by leaving any of those sinews on there- they are absolutely tough and inedible!

Using a very sharp knife, I chose to cut mine against the grain- which is rather un-typical! The knife needs to be sharp, otherwise you run the risk of the remaining fibers and sinews pulling apart and making your slices ugly and your dish tough, chewy and inedible... take heed! Once they are relatively finely sliced, they can be popped into a saucepan of boiling, salted water to simmer away for the next 40 minutes... yes, they do take that long... but again- they ARE worth it!

In the meantime, turn your oven on to get it hot and prepare a little tasty batter for your frittata. Mix together the 2 eggs, half of the grated salted Ricotta, most of the parsley, the Spring onion cut into very fine slices, a good splash of milk, a little salt and plenty of pepper and nutmeg.

Then mix a cupful of bread crumbs with the other half of the grated salted ricotta and the last bit of finely chopped parsley, add pepper and nutmeg and set to one side, ready for action!

Once the cardoons are boiled and tender, drain them and allow them to cool before starting on putting your frittata together. Start by pouring some of the batter into your frying pan first and then adding the cardoons. Next, pour the remaining batter over the cardoons and press them down so that everything is mixed nicely and evenly.

Sprinkle generously with the seasoned bread crumbs, drizzle with a little olive oil and begin to fry on the stove top until the batter begins to bubble away around the outside edges- then transfer the pan to a hot oven and continue cooking/baking for the next 10-15 minutes, at 180°C, until the batter is set, the frittata is firm and the bread crumb and ricotta topping is deliciously golden brown!

The smell from the oven is delicious, the taste of the finished frittata is even more so- and it is now finished and ready to enjoy! But fear not- the great thing about this is that it tastes great cold- should there be any left that is!

Simple, delicious and awesome good food! Who needs anything fancier than this? Not I, say I! And I am unanimous in this!

This was a small, single portion just for my little-ol' self- but I suggest you roll up your sleeves and make plenty more if you are not a singleton like myself- because your family or your friends might just love these too!


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