Day 8 French regional Christmas specialities: Cardons from Rhône-Alpes

A relatively forgotten vegetable, cardons make a come-back on Christmas tables

Cardons are often cooked au gratin
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Every day from December 1-12, The Connexion will be sharing a French regional Christmas speciality. Today we look at cardons from the Rhône-Alpes.

What are cardons?

Cardons, known as cardoons in English, come from a spiny plant that is often compared with the artichoke thistle. It has been farmed and grown around the Mediterranean region and along the Rhône river for 2,000 years.

Because of the heavy competition from artichoke harvesting (mainly in Brittany), it has fallen into relative obscurity. While 21,549 tonnes of artichokes are produced in France each year, only 400 tonnes of cardoons are harvested, mainly in the Auvergne Rhône-Alpes region.

Cardoons are a popular choice during the Christmas season and found on many tables around Lyon, the Ain, Dauphiné and elsewhere in the Savoie department on Christmas Eve. The dish is often paired with anchovies or baked in the oven with a bone marrow sauce.

Cardons are also called carde in Provence and are an example of what the French term légumes oubliés(forgotten vegetables) meaning they are rarely known and even more rarely eaten.

How to cook cardoons?

First, you will have to find cardoons, which is not so easy outside of the Rhône-Alpes region.

Popular French TV chef Julie Andrieu went to Lyon to cook a gratin de cardons in an episode of her TV show Les Carnets de Julie.

The following recipe is for six to eight persons and is a summary of Ms Andrieu’s video.

Buy one cardoon of approximately 1.5 kilos and cut off its root. Pull apart the greenish stalks while removing the leaves. Cut the cardoon stalks into small pieces of around five to seven centimetres in length.

Put them in lemon water to avoid them browning from oxidation, then place in a casserole dish filled with water and cook for 40 minutes. Put the two marrow bones in water and boil for 10 minutes.

In a third pan, melt around 50 grams of butter before adding two tablespoons of flour and some of the bone marrow water, until the sauce starts to thicken.

Put the cardoons in a serving dish. Take the marrow bones from the water and extract the marrow from the bones before cutting it thinly. Lay it on top of the cardoons, sprinkle it with shredded emmental and cover with the sauce.

Let it cook in the oven for 30 minutes at 180C.

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