Born in Texas to a Sicilian-American family, my appreciation for both fried food and traditional Italian cuisine has been imprinted into my DNA. While my family has been American-born for many generations, the old-world roots remain strong and have integrated nicely with Texan culture. With family recipes passed down in hand-written cookbooks, both old-world and new; men and women in the kitchen working up their culinary magic — my family is all about making and enjoying food together. It’s the central focus at every gathering (for better or for worse), and it’s part of our identity. We do Southern, we do Italian, and we do Southern Italian; and it’s all amazing.
My passion for all things food — gardening, cooking, eating, sharing — surely stems from my lineage. Part of my inspiration in creating recipes for this blog is to combine family tradition with the healthy lifestyle I’ve chosen for myself — delicious meets healthy. My goal is to build upon the family recipe, replacing less-than-ideal ingredients with nourishing ones we can all feel good about eating, all without losing the essence of the family dish. I did this with my mom’s green beans, and now I’m going to share my version of the Carduni Fritti (Fried Cardoons) my grandmother used to make — or as she would call them, “gardunas.”
What’s a Cardoon?
It turns out, that’s an excellent question. The idea for this recipe came when a relative suggested I fry up the stems of my artichoke plant to make fried carduni. Skeptical that this was actually what cardoons were, I did a little internet investigating and discovered that the difference between cardoons and artichoke seems to be a little unclear. I do know that the cardoons my grandmother used to make were made out of the leaves of the plant, not the stems, but as far as I can tell, you can’t just pull off the leaves of the artichoke plant and fry them up.
The final verdict (as far as I was able to decipher from my cursory internet research) is that they share a common ancestor, that there is a domesticated and a wild variety of cardoon, but that the globe artichoke plant was cultivated for domestic use earlier in history. So while they are similar, they are not exactly the same. All this is to say that I didn’t use official cardoons, I used my artichoke stems for this recipe, and if I can find cardoons, I’ll be trying this again — and possibly trying a few of the cardoon recipes I found on my internet hunt.
To be perfectly honest, I have no idea where my grandmother found the raw cardoons for the recipe she used to make. They’re definitely a seasonal item (we always ate them around the holidays and around Easter) but besides that, I don’t know. A quick search online resulted in “maybe you can find them at the grocery store certain times of the year.”
Of course, reading this has inspired me to order some seeds to grow my own, but in the meantime, the stems of my artichoke plants held up just fine in terms of the texture and flavor I came to expect from my grandmother’s signature Sicilian dish.
Baked, Not Fried
I’m starting to feel like I shouldn’t have called this recipe “Carduni Fritti.” After all, the ingredients are neither true cardoons nor fried, but if you just stay with me, it will all be worth it. If you’ve tried that green bean recipe I linked above — here it is again — then you know that I can make some delicious gluten-free Italian food, and these little numbers fall right in line with excellent oven-baked Italian deliciousness. Recreating MawMaw Josie’s “gardunas,” CWB-style, gave me the opportunity to make use of the stems of my giant artichoke plant, which would have otherwise just been composted, so it was worthwhile, even if calling this dish “fried cardoons” is a little inaccurate.
In the end, my “not-Carduni not-Fritti” hit the nostalgic spot for me — as did my imitation of my grandmother eating them.
- 5 or 6 artichoke stems, cut into 4 inch pieces, blanched in salted water and peeled
- 2 eggs beaten with 2 tbs unsweetened almond milk
- 1 cup garbanzo flour
- 1 tsp seasoned salt
- 1 tsp lemon pepper
- 2 tbs fresh chopped oregano, basil, and rosemary
- Preheat the oven to 350
- In a shallow pan with about 2 inches of water 1 tsp salt, parboil the stems for about 5 minutes
- Pour into a strainer and run cold water over until they're cool enough to handle
- Peel the outer fibrous layer around the outside of the stem off to expose the tender, inner heart of the stem
- Slice stems in half, lengthwise
- Pat the peeled stems dry
- Beat 2 eggs with 2 tbs unsweetened almond milk in a medium bowl
- In a separate bowl, mix garbanzo flour, seasoned salt, lemon pepper, and chopped fresh herbs
- Grease a cookie sheet large enough that all the pieces will lay flat without overlapping using avocado or coconut oil
- Dip each piece in egg mixture, then in the batter, then on the pan until all are battered and ready to bake
- Bake on 350 on a greased cookie sheet for 8 minutes on each side
- Lightly spray with extra virgin olive oil (CWB Favorite Pick) and salt immediately when they come out of the oven
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