This is an adaptation from a 2,000-year-old recipe for cardoons I found in a translation of the Roman gourmand Apicius from the book A Taste of Ancient Rome. Romans ate a great deal of cardoons and artichokes, although it is believed that the cardoons they ate were wild, not the cultivated kind in my garden.
It’s basically a boiled cardoon with an unusual herb sauce, spiked with honey and Vietnamese fish sauce, which is the closest thing to Roman garum I can think of. Oh, and yes you need lovage and rue — or at least one of them — as these herbs play a major role in Ancient Roman cuisine.
Serves 2 (and can be doubled)
- 1/2 pound cardoon stalks
- 1 lemon
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon minced lovage leaves
- 1 tablespoon minced cilantro or parsley leaves
- 1 tablespoon minced fennel fronds
- 1 tablespoon minced mint leaves
- 1 teaspoon minced rue leaves
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- Black pepper to taste
- Grated hard cheese, such as parmesan, pecorino or Greek mizithra.
- Trim the cardoon stalks and peel the strings from them by peeling from the outside edge of the stalk. Cut the stalks into 4-5 inch lengths and submerge in ice water with the juice of one-half a lemon in it.
- Bring a large pot of salty water to a boil. The water should taste like the sea.
- When the water boils, add the juice of the other half of the lemon, toss the lemon in the water and boil the cardoon stalks for 20-30 minutes, or until tender.
- Meanwhile, make the sauce. In a mortar, combine the garlic and all the herbs and pound into a paste.
- Add the black pepper, honey, vinegar and the fish sauce and pound some more to combine.
- Add the oil a little at a time, pounding and mashing and mixing all the way. Taste it. The sauce should be powerfully herby, and a little sweet-and-sour. If it needs salt, add some.
- Pour some sauce on a plate and top with the cardoons. Sprinkle a little grated cheese on top and serve at once.