Here in Pittsburgh, we don't generally see cardoons, and so far I have not yet been able to find any. I'm still looking; I want to try them. A while back, I asked the on-duty manager at a local supermarket if they would consider stocking cardoons. He said, "Lady, we already have them. You need to look in the videos." As I pushed my cart on, puzzled, the little lightbulb appeared in the bubble cloud over my head. He thought I'd said "cartoons."
I can see that it may be awhile before they turn up here. Meanwhile, I thought I'd try this gratin, usually made with cardoons, but adapted for preparation with fennel and belgian endive by Anya van Bremzen. In her view it has a similar effect with these substitute vegetables, both of which are personal favorites of mine.
This recipe appears in Ms. van Bremzen's voluminous and worthy New Spanish Table. I've adapted it very slightly. You may be beginning to think that I am overdoing it with this book in general, and almonds in particular. All I can say is that the book was due back at the library, and it is entirely possible that a person can't have too many almonds. If you would like to make this too, you should assemble the following:
fresh lemon juice 3 tbsps
belgian endives 5
fennel bulb, stalks trimmed off
chicken broth 1 1/2 cups (veg broth fine, I'm sure, but I have a really nice batch of c. broth going on)
olive oil 4 tbsps
a pinch of sugar
black pepper, freshly groung
minced onion 1/3 cup
garlic cloves, minced 3 large
parsley, minced 3 tbsps
all purpose flour 5 tbsps
whole milk 3/4 cup
slivered blanched almonds 1 1/4 cups. Reserve 1/4 cup-grind the rest in a coffee grinder or mini- processor
Fill a bowl with cold water and add 2 tbsps lemon juice. Cut up the veg as follows, and put them in the lemon water: Quarter endives lengthwise. Cut fennel bulb in half lengthwise; then cut each half into 4 slices.
Preheat oven to 450F. When you are ready, drain and arrange in layers in a wide heavy pan. Add 3/4 cup broth, 2 tbsps olive oil, 1 tbsp lemon juice, sugar. Dampen some parchment paper, crumple it, and set it on top of the veg. Bring to a boil, and simmer til just tender, about 20 minutes. Drain. Arrange in a single layer in a buttered gratin dish. Heat 2 tbsps olive oil. add onion, and cook til transparent. Add garlic and parlsey and stir a bit; stir in flour, cook 1 minute. Increase heat and whisk in milk and remainig stock. Cook til thickened. Stir in ground almonds. Spread sauce over veg. Scatter unground almonds over all. Bake til browned and bubbly. (Probably about 20-25 minutes.)
This can be served as a side dish, but personally, I think it makes a fine supper on it's own with some really good bread to mop up the sauce. Followed by a pear and some cheese, it seemed pretty complete to me.
Just a Reminder (and noodge): I hope you will post about your favorite economical meal, and clever treats for when the cupboard is bare, and will send me your permalink by April 2nd, for inclusion in Something From Nothing.