Sunday, 6 December 2015

I Believe I Can Fry

Carduni Piccanti Friuti ca Farina di Ciceri
Spicy Cardoons, Fried in Chickpea-Flour Batter

A "contorno" or side-dish, often served cold in the evening with a few other equally humble "companaggi" or accompaniments, to some simple bread and maybe a glass of wine... that is Sicilian "old school".

It is the way that we eat at suppertime when I visit- small, simple things and a little bread- after all, we do have a warm meal for lunch... which of course would be equally simple and delicious- but that is what Sicilian food is all about!

Traditionally, cardoons are either tossed with a little vinegar and garlic, seasoned with salt and pepper and enjoyed that way, or served fried in a simple egg/flour/milk batter. 

But I thought I could do better than that... and so I did!

Taking a little inspiration from another of my favorite Sicilian foods, made with the humblest of humble ingredients, chickpea flour, I left out the egg and milk and came up with this rather excellent variation!

It was as simple as this- one small bunch of cardoons (about 15-16" tall... they can be HUGE!!), 1 red chili pepper, 2 cups of chickpea flour, some fresh parsley, salt, olive oil... and a few drops of water!

Another of my favorite things to eat when I am in Sicily, is "panelle", which are simple fritters made from chickpea flour, which is boiled-up as one would polenta, poured out and allowed to set, then cut into little rectangles and deep fried. Usually they are served with a squeeze of lemon juice, a sprinkle of salt and parsley and strangely enough, in a bread roll... Sicilian burgers!

The thing is... the taste of that simple chickpea-flour batter, fried... is simply delicious! And so- I used that idea to make my cardoons ultra-delicious too!

If you are not familiar with cardoons- just think of them as kissing-cousins with artichokes- only they do not produce the flowers, they simply have loooong stalks that look a little like celery to the layman... except that they are much larger, a silver gray/green color... and have these nasty little thorns along the edges- so watch your fingers!

There is no denying that the cleaning of them is quite a chore- and a messy one at that- but some things just have to be done!

Trim away those 2 dangerous outer edges first and then cut away the outside layer of fibrous skin. Don't mess around trying to peel them super thin- cut down until you expose the shiny, green flesh beneath the silver skin and discard the rest. It is absolutely inedible and life is too short!

In the meantime, finely chop your chili and parsley. You could alternatively use dried chili flakes to the fresh, or if you prefer simply pepper if you want to make them milder. Add a good pinch of salt, and begin to add water and stir it in, little by little, until you have a batter of the consistency of a light custard. And just look at that lovely yellow color!

The cardoons need to boil for 45 minutes in well salted water. I cut mine into lengths of around 3" and split the larger stems in half lengthways too... just like my mamma does!

Once they were boiled and tender, i drained the cardoons and rinsed them under cold water to cool them off and stop the cooking process- you can alternatively of course simply set them aside to cool off by themselves... but I was in a hurry!

Now all you need to do is to dip them into the batter... and you're ready to fry!

Fry at a relatively high heat with just a touch of olive oil- they will only take a couple of minutes from either side to become lovely and golden brown.

They will look lovely and smell even better- just like this!

Fry them up in small batches to keep them easy to handle, keep the amount of oil you use low... and you will have a wonderful plateful of beautiful cardoons like these to serve up and enjoy in next to no time!

And of course... any left -over batter simply gets poured out into the pan on its own and turned into a chefs little extra treat... like this! Because you and I deserve it!

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