You may have seen cardoons in the grocery store and passed them right by because they look a lot like celery from a distance. Upon closer inspection, you may notice some differences. For starters, cardoons have thorns on either side of each rib, they are lighter in color, and they're slightly larger than most stalks of celery. Cardoons are, in fact, a close cousin to the artichoke...which explains their thorny exterior and also their wonderful flavor.
Once you go through the laborious ritual of preparing cardoons -- clean, peel, soak in acidulated water, blanch in salted water, cool, dredge in flour, dip in egg, roll in breadcrumbs, and fry -- you will discover that they are a wonderful treat that's worth every bit of the effort. The stalks taste similar to mild, creamy artichoke hearts. This is an Italian delicacy traditionally served at Christmastime, but I prepare them whenever I spot this elusive vegetable at the grocery store.
1 stalk cardoons
1 cup flour
2 cups panko breadcrumbs
canola oil (for frying)
Clean and trim the root-end and tops, including the leaves, from the cardoons. (Mind the thorns! You may want to wear gloves.) Using a vegetable peeler, peel any tough strings and thorns from each rib. Cut prepared cardoons into thirds and soak in enough water to cover. Squeeze a lemon into the water and set aside for 15 minutes.
Bring a separate pot of heavily salted water (it should taste like the sea) up to a boil. Blanch the cardoons for about 8-10 minutes or until soft. Remove from the water, and allow the cardoons to cool. Set up a three-pan system with flour, egg, and panko. Take each cardoon through these steps: first dredge it in flour, next dip it in egg, and finally, roll it in the panko.
Heat about an inch of canola oil to medium heat in a medium-sized frying pan. Fry cardoons in batches until golden brown. (This will only take about a minute per side.) Drain on paper towels, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and garnish with parmesan. This is perfect served with a simple pasta with tomato sauce.