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Take a Fresh Look at a Clever Little Vegetable

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Take a Fresh Look at a Clever Little Vegetable


Take a Fresh Look at a Clever Little Vegetable

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

In a moment, a much maligned mother has her say. But first, we pause, as we do each week, to consider the joy of cooking. You've heard of celery. You've heard of artichokes, but have you heard of cardoons?

(Soundbite of crunching)

Ms. PEGGY KNICKERBOCKER (Co-Author, The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market Cookbook): Can you hear that?

LYDEN: I sure can.

Ms. KNICKERBOCKER: And it's very bitter in my mouth.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LYDEN: That's Peggy Knickerbocker, a food and travel writer. She divides her time between Paris and California's Bay Area. Yes, a pretty good life. Her latest cookbook is based on ingredients found at San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. And Peggy joins me for this week's food moment. How are you, Peggy?


LYDEN: Peggy, what does a cardoon look like?

Ms. KNICKERBOCKER: Well, the flowers are thistles. They're a member of the thistle family, but the stalks look a little bit like celery, kind of a silvery, milky celery. And then the leaves are sort of spiky, and they look - I don't know if you know what a artichoke leaf looks like, but they're quite like that. They're very dramatic, and in fact the English, I don't think, really cook with them but use them more ornamentally in the garden.

LYDEN: Now, do people eat them because they're tasty or because they're good for you or because they're just, by golly, you know, that's a really weird looking thing and, you know, once tempted I will conquer it? I mean what are - what's its appeal?

Ms. KNICKERBOCKER: Well, you know, it's a plant that grows in North Africa and kind of follows a trail up through Sicily and up through Italy and up into the south of - southwest France, so it's - it really is a Mediterranean plant. And I think it's one of those flavors that's a little bit - you know, you get a little bit used to it as you eat it. And it has a slightly bitter flavor. It has a sort of artichoke tendency, so that if you were to put it into a soup, let's say, a potato and leek soup, and you would add that in, it would just give that very subtle hint of artichoke.


Ms. KNICKERBOCKER: You know, chefs love to fool around with food like this, because who wants to cook the endless array of broccoli and cauliflower? So chefs usually are challenged by this.

LYDEN: I guess another property they had in the Mediterranean is as a curling - a curdling.

Ms. KNICKERBOCKER: Yes, yes. In fact I called Paula Wolfert yesterday, the wonderful Mediterranean cookbook writer and food anthropologist, and she rattled off information for a half an hour. She was delighted to talk about cardoons. And she and I happened to have been in Morocco at the same time about 15 years ago, and she said that I had actually had something that's called a rape(ph) or heck(ph), and it's sort of - you put the dried thistles into milk, and it curdles the milk, and it makes this delicious drink. It's a little bit like a yogurt or a kefir.


Ms. KNICKERBOCKER: But what's interesting is that the cardoon trail leads from North Africa up to southwest France, and there's a cheese there that's called chiabot(ph). It's a soft curd cheese, and the Arabs must have brought the idea with them because that cheese is made with the - by putting the thistles into the milk and allowing it to curdle.

LYDEN: Well, it sounds like there's a heck of a lot of ways that you can prepare these. Do you have any other suggestions?

Ms. KNICKERBOCKER: Well, I do. You can fry them in olive oil and get them nice and crispy and just dust them with a little salt, or you can toss them in a vinaigrette with a little anchovy. There are some people who even grill them. You could serve them with a little Serrano ham or prosciutto.

LYDEN: Thank you very much. Peggy Knickerbocker is the co-author with Christopher Hirsheimer of The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market Cookbook. Thanks again, Peggy.

Ms. KNICKERBOCKER: Thank you Jacki.

LYDEN: You can find a recipe for baking cardoons at our Web site,

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