Okay. They say cardoon’s flavor and texture resembles artichokes. I like artichokes, a lot. But as everyone knows, they’re technically difficult to prepare. So many sharp rough leaves to remove before you get to the flavorful choke. Well, in that sense, cardoon isn’t too different, either. Cardoons don’t grow chokes. Instead you have to remove the leaves and thorns, peel the stalks, remove the stringy fiber from them, then boil the tough buggers for some 30 minutes before you’re ready to begin!

But I’m brave in the kitchen so I finally decided to endure the cardoon challenge.

cardoon with garlic, caper, green olive and anchovy

cardoon with garlic, caper, green olive and anchovy

Frankly, I have yet to decide if it was worth it. This is loads of work for a somehow mediocre flavored end result. Cardoon and artichoke plants look alike: both gorgeous with spindly long stalks and silvery green leaves. I have to agree cardoon does taste slightly like artichokes but the texture isn’t quite right, sort of like crunchy and watery celery stalks or maybe chayote. I love both celery and chayote but since I was primed for artichokes, this was a tragic disappointment.

I followed this recipe to clean and parboil my cardoon.

I started with a whole plant but by the end only ended up with about 2½ cups of the prepared veggie. I cooked them like I do artichoke hearts. This recipe is a variation of the one with mint and anchovy (without the mint since I didn’t have it) and my favorite one with lots of olives.

cardoon plant

cardoon plant

cardoon with garlic, caper, green olive and anchovy

2½ cups cooked cardoons
4 cloves garlic chopped fine
2 tbsp capers chopped
½ green olives chopped
2 anchovy fillets
½ to 1 bunch Italian parsley chopped
1½ dry white wine
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of half lemon
Black pepper

Add 2 tbsp olive oil to a saucepan followed by garlic and anchovies. Cook at low temperature for about a minute or so. Anchovies will dissolve. Bring temp to high then add capers, olives, parsley and cardoon. Toss to combine, add white wine, cover the pan and bring to a boil then lower the heat and simmer until most of the liquid is gone. Remove from heat, add salt and pepper, squeeze with lemon juice and finally add remaining of olive oil. Serve as a side dish, warm or at room temperature.


kale with black olives, raw cashews and anchovy

kale with black olives, raw cashews and anchovy

Steven and I have been enjoying recipes from David Rocco’s new cookbook, Made in Italy. Many of them seem very simple to make and look tasty from pics in the book. The chickpea soup infused with rosemary Steven made the other day was yummy!

This recipe is supposed to be made with escarole, one of my favorite green leafy vegetables. Sadly I couldn’t find it at our Whole Foods the day I made this dish, so instead I ran to our community garden plot and harvested some organic Russian Kale as a replacement. This straightforward sauté is really flavorful and almost rich. This could be a very elegant upgrade to the traditional Thanksgiving feast green veggie side.

kale with black olives, raw cashews and anchovy

1 large bunch kale, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
10 Kalamata olives, halved
4 anchovy filets packed in oil, drained
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
small handful raw cashews

Steam kale leaves for about 5 to 8 minutes or until leaves become soft. Transfer to a colander and let fully drain.

Add half of the olive oil to a skillet, place it over burner, add anchovies and cook on low temperature until the fish dissolves. Anchovies have a pungent smell that shouldn’t put you off. That’s the whole point. Raise the temperature a bit, add garlic and sauté until aromatic. Fold in kale then add olives and cashews, cover and cook it for another minute or so, until warmed through. Transfer to a serving dish and drizzle with remaining olive oil. Serve as a side dish.

This is so good that I want to make it again soon, once I can find escarole in the market.


We’ve this incredible overabundance of Tuscan (dinosaur) kale from our community garden right now. The stuff is delicious but after a while, you simply run out of creative ideas for this ultra healthy green. What a relief it was, then, to try our friend, John’s raw Tuscan kale salad “cooked” in lemon juice on our picnic excursion to Mt. Tamalpais the other week.

raw Tuscan kale salad with lemon

raw Tuscan kale salad with lemon

I write cooked in quotation marks because I feel almost positive there is a culinary term for preparing food with lemon juice but without heat. I just cannot for the life of me remember it and my attempt to Google the word was a complete failure. Do you know the proper term for that process? If so, do write in and tell me! It’s driving me batty.

Anyway, I never did get John’s exact recipe, so I sort of guessed about what he did. Really this is like a kale Cesar salad in a sense. It is important to slice the raw kale as thinly as possible and let it marinade in the dressing for at least 20 or 30 minutes to tenderize it.

organic Tuscan kale from our community garden, lemon and garlic make this salad memorable

organic Tuscan kale from our community garden, lemon and garlic make this salad memorable

raw Tuscan kale salad with lemon

1 large bunch of Tuscan kale, thick stems removed
Juice of three lemons
¼ cup olive oil
1 small clove garlic
2 anchovy fillets
Salt and black pepper to taste
3 tbsps. Parmesan

Slice kale extremely thinly and place in a large bowl. Blend lemon juice, olive oil, garlic clove, anchovies, salt and black pepper together in a food processor. Toss with kale, cover and let sit for about 30 minutes. Toss with parmesan. Adjust with more salt or pepper, if needed.

We had ours with black beans and rice, catfish tenders, and sautéed okra with garlic and carrot.


This recipe is based upon one from Marcella Hazan’s Marcella Cucina. I really love her food. And she sounds like quite a firecracker too. I’ve read somewhere that she’s a big fan of bourbon. Anyone who can cook that well and loves bourbon is alright in my book. I’ve a copy of her autobiography, Amarcord: Marcella Remembers, somewhere around here. I really need to find it soon.

poblano peppers stuffed with Italian eggplant, anchovy and pepitas

poblano peppers stuffed with Italian eggplant, anchovy and pepitas

Her recipe uses yellow or red bell peppers and she makes a big point of having you char and remove the outer membrane. I’ve done that several times, but it is a nightmare. Though I have to agree, it makes the final dish more tender, I don’t think that the effort is worth it. Instead, I’ve steamed my peppers, like I did for the poblanos and reds stuffed with saffron rice.

As to the poblano versus the bell, I remain of the opinion that poblanos simply taste better whereas bells just taste sweet. To each cook his or her own, I suppose. I added pepitas for a bit of crunch and it seems to match the peppers well. I did have two small reds, which I also stuffed. Oddly, these two ended up being leftovers after Hegui and I gorged on the smokier Mexican peppers.

key ingredients for poblano peppers stuffed with Italian eggplant, anchovy and pepitas

key ingredients for poblano peppers stuffed with Italian eggplant, anchovy and pepitas

poblano peppers stuffed with Italian eggplant, anchovy and pepitas

4 to 6 poblano or red bell peppers
1 medium Italian eggplant (about a pound)
2 tbsp pepitas
6 anchovy fillets
2 tbsp Italian parsley
1 tbsp capers
1 garlic clove, peeled
3 tbsp panko breadcrumbs
¼ tsp oregano
2 tbsp olive oil
1 Roma tomato, peeled and chopped
vegetable oil
black pepper to taste

Cut eggplant into about ½ inch dice. Toss with ample salt in a colander. Let sit for about 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry. Fry in vegetable oil until translucent and soft. Remove from oil to large bowl.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Cut poblano peppers in half and remove seeds and ribs. If using bell peppers, carefully cut tops off and remove seeds and ribs. Steam for ten minutes. Remove from heat and run under cold water to cool.

Toast pepitas in dry pan until slightly browned and popping. Set aside.

Coarsely chop garlic, capers, Italian parsley, and anchovies together. Add to eggplant. Add tomato, oregano, olive oil, pepitas, black pepper, and 2 tbsp panko to eggplant. Fold together.

Using two tablespoons, stuff peppers with filling, about one tbsp each. Place in a baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining panko. Bake 15 to 20 minutes.

Allow peppers to cool to room temperature before serving.


This recipe comes from another Mary Taylor Simeti book, SICILIAN FOOD: Recipes from Italy’s Abundant Isle. I’m fascinated by Sicily right now and have gotten more into making food that hales from there. Torta Paradiso from her book, Bitter Almonds, was just the beginning.  (For the chocolate truffle challenge, see the end of this post.)

This pasta recipe caught my attention because it uses copious amounts of anchovies in a single dish. I was skeptical about it since they can be so powerful, but I wanted to give it a try anyway, since we love anchovies: even when they’re too fishy.

spaghetti con acciuche e mollica AKA spaghetti with anchovies and breadcrumbs

spaghetti con acciuche e mollica AKA spaghetti with anchovies and breadcrumbs

The recipe also calls for ‘strattu (tomato extract), which in Sicily they make directly under their scalding summer sun with nothing but ultra ripe tomatoes, salt and basil. The tomatoes are chopped small, passed through a food mill to remove skin and seeds then the salt and basil are added. The mixture is spread on a wooden surface under the sun. You’re supposed to keep stirring it with a wood spatula until the water has evaporated and the mass becomes a thick paste. Mary writes that it might take a couple of days to get the desired consistency depending on how much sun you have in your area. That is a lot of work! Wow! I keep thinking how fun it would be to make my own ‘strattu. I wonder if my porch would work… Maybe in late Summer? For now, I’m using canned tomato paste and saving that adventure for another time.

This turned out wonderfully. Despite my initial apprehensions, the anchovies lent a mellow, earthy, briny, delicate layer of flavor to the dish. It was not overwhelming at all. Love it!

spaghetti con acciuche e mollica AKA spaghetti with anchovies and breadcrumbs

1lb spaghetti
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
4 tbsp tomato paste
6 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled, partially crushed
crushed red pepper
black pepper
10 anchovy fillets, drained (1 small can)
2 tbsp Italian fresh parsley, chopped fine
1 cup plain water
1 to ½ cups water from cooked pasta

Bring a large pot of water to boil.

Add 1 tbsp olive oil to a skillet on high. Add breadcrumbs and toast until golden. Transfer to a bowl and set a side.

Wipe pan with a paper towel. Add remaining olive oil and garlic to the pan and cook until aromatic. Add tomato paste, salt and peppers then cook for a couple of minutes, stirring to prevent burning. Add one cup of water. Stir to completely dissolve paste then simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring every now and then.

Add anchovies plus 1 tbsp of olive oil to a glass measuring cup (Pyrex) and half submerge the cup in the pot of boiling water (where past will be cooked). Cook anchovies in bain marie stirring until they become a thick sauce. Add anchovies to tomato sauce. Stir to combine. Set aside but keep warm.

Add pasta to boiling water and cook until al dente about 1 to 2 minutes before doneness indicated on the package. Drain reserving about 2 cups from cooking liquid.

To assemble the dish, reheat sauce. Add pasta, ½ of the toasted breadcrumbs, cooking water then toss together. Transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with parsley and more breadcrumbs. Use remaining breadcrumbs at table for each diner to add to his or her own dish as they choose.

Chocolate truffle food blogging challenge:  The glamorous Heavenly from donuts to delirium and we at weirdcombos want to invite any interested food blogging folk to join us in a chocolate truffle cooking challenge.  All you have to do is contact us for the basic recipe, come up with a creative version of your own, and publish it with links to all the other participants for the challenge on Monday May 30, 2011.  This was incredibly fun when we did the tagliatelle challenge in March. So get your thinking caps on and your sweet… teeth(?) ready for some delicious fun in May!


My friend John made this antepasto several times for us. It is so tasty that I requested, no, firmly insisted, on the recipe from him. He spotted it on Epicurious. He did make some minimal changes to the dish, mostly with the amounts of ingredients. This is his version as best as I can make it.

grilled artichokes with mint, caper and anchovy

grilled artichokes with mint, caper and anchovy

I adore artichokes. Do you? If so, then this is a must-make dish.

I bought eight gorgeous artichokes at our local TJ’s the other day. They came from nearby Castroville, the land of artichokes in America. They were cheap: just 59 cents each! It is a pain to prepare them but I don’t mind it at all. I used the steps that I described in pickled artichokes to get these ready.

use your fresh artichokes as a table decoration before making them into a meal

use your fresh artichokes as a table decoration before making them into a meal

grilled artichokes with mint, caper and anchovy

½ to ¾ cup olive oil
8 filets of anchovy, minced
4 tbsp drained capers, minced
½ cup mint leaves chopped fine
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp white wine vinegar
8 artichokes, cleaned and cut in halves
½ lemon
1 bowl filled with cold water

Prepare the marinade by whisking together olive oil, anchovies, capers, mint, black pepper and vinegar. Set aside.

Clean the artichokes following the recipe for pickled artichokes.

Steam cleaned artichokes until tender, about ten minutes. Then transfer to a bowl filled with ice water to stop cooking process. Drain once cool.

Drizzle some olive oil from marinade over artichokes and grill them for 10 minutes or until slightly charred. My grill was dirty so instead I broiled these in the oven. The charred flavor the grill imparts to the chokes is better but the oven does a great job too. Depending on how hot your grill gets, you may need less time. Transfer grilled artichokes to a serving platter and pour marinade over them. Toss to combine then let sit for 20 minutes to fully blend flavors. Serve at room temperature.


My original idea for this recipe wasn’t Southwest at all. I was reading this cool food blog, bitchin’Camero, and got super excited by Mel’s recipe for smoked salmon, goat cheese and spinach empanadas.

Southwest inspired homemade empanadas

My folks had just gone on an Alaskan cruise and brought us some smoked salmon as a gift. Perfect! I made the dish more-or-less the way described, but I tried to be ambitious and make my own dough. I should have read between the lines when Mel gave hints on buying pre-made empanada shells at a local grocer or even on-line. Will I ever learn? The filling for the salmon etc. empanada (I made one large pie instead of hand-held ones) tasted great. The crust, not so good: sort of brick-like.

this smoked salmon, goat cheese and spinach empanada looks great but the dough didn't work

Not to be deterred by such a minor setback, I tried again: this time with a different crust recipe and a new filling. I’d already used up the salmon so improvised here with a Mediterranean-meets-Southwest style stuffing. The empanada dough recipe comes from The dough was easy to make and turned out very well. I ended up sprinkling some sea salt on the finished empanadas before popping them into the oven, which might have been overkill. Otherwise, this was fantastic.

some key ingredients for Southwest inspired homemade empanadas

Southwest inspired homemade empanadas

For the filling:

½ cup olives, pitted (I used kalamata and stuffed Spanish)
3 fillets anchovy
4 sundried tomatoes
6 cloves garlic
12 small dried mild chiles (I used chile puya)
2 small onions, peeled and cut in halves
¼ cup pepitas, briefly dry pan roasted
8 spring onions, chopped
Goat cheese to taste
Salt to taste

For dough:

Follow the link above or take Mel’s excellent advice and try frozen shells. Making the dough yourself brings a real sense of satisfaction if it comes out right. Plus the empanadas can take on irregular and exciting shapes, which make them seem more unique and fun.

To prepare the filling:

Using a cast iron pan on high heat, roast the garlic and onion until blackened a bit. At the same time, roast the chile peppers for about 20 to 30 seconds on each side. Immediately toss them into a small pot of boiling water. Boil, covered, for five minutes. Remove from heat and allow to rest, covered, for another fifteen minutes. (This is the same preparation that I used for smoky ancho salsa but with a different chili pepper.) Remove chiles from water. Carefully remove and discard stems, seeds and inner ribs. Place peppers in food processor.

Add olives, roasted garlic and onion, sundried tomatoes and anchovies to chiles. Pulse until a thick paste is formed. Transfer to a bowl.

Mix pepitas and spring onions with blended chile filling.

Southwest inspired homemade empanada close up

To stuff empanadas:

Place a large spoon of filling in the center of each piece of dough. Top with a chunk of goat cheese. Close dough per recipe directions and bake. Allow to cool on wire racks and serve. These would be great for a picnic to wine country!


I love this dish. Hegui likes it even more than I do. As a result, I make it about once a week (and on that rare occasion, twice). It takes about twenty minutes to throw together, so it’s perfect on an evening when you’re harried or it’s late in the week and you’ve run out of fresh ingredients but want something delicious fast.

spaghetti with Roman style tomato sauce

Actually, I published essentially the same recipe over a year ago, but with another name that made it hard to search for on the blog. Plus, I love this dish so much that it deserves to get promoted periodically. If you’re already making this, then you can skip it here. Otherwise, get with the program! You’ll thank me later.

Thank you for the original recipe, Kristen. I hope that you don’t mind my modifications.

spaghetti with Roman style tomato sauce

28oz can of diced peeled tomatoes
3 to 4 tbs extra virgin olive oil
3 to 5 fillets anchovies or two to three sardines (optional)
3 peeled fresh garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
2 to 3 dry red pepperoncini or chile de arbol, broken (or crushed red pepper to taste)
freshly ground black pepper to taste
salt to taste
1 tsp dried oregano or basil; 1 tbs if fresh
12 kalamata or similar olives, pitted and cut in halves
1 package spaghetti or other long pasta, cooked al dente
grated parmigiano reggiano cheese to taste (optional)

key ingredient for spaghetti with Roman style tomato sauce: Andy Warhol style cans

Start boiling water for pasta.

While water is heating, in separate pan, add olive oil, garlic and anchovies or sardines. I generally use anchovy. (If you prefer more chunks of fish, add it towards the end with the olives. Leave this out for vegetarian version.) Once oil is hot and garlic starts to cook (about one minute) add tomato, peppers, salt, bay leaves and dry herbs (if using). Simmer for about 15 to 20 min covered. Stir occasionally.

During simmering process, cook pasta per package directions.

Just before serving use tongs to discard garlic cloves, bay leaves and large pieces of pepperoncini, if using.

Add olives and herbs (if using fresh). Toss pasta with sauce.

Serve on individual plates or in large serving bowl. Add parmigiano. Makes about four large or six small servings.


tuna rottele pasta Niçoise

July 27, 2010

This salad is a take on Niçoise salad. I bought an expensive jar of tuna chunks packed in extra virgin olive oil and herbs the other day at “whole paycheck” in our hood. At home we had beautiful fresh organic heirloom carrots (Nantes, maybe?), French green beans, Dijon mustard you get the picture right? So […]

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grilled vegetable tapenade

March 23, 2010

Did you know that the word tapenade comes from tapéno, which in Provençal means capers? Tapenade is normally made mostly of black olives and lesser amounts of capers, anchovies, olive oil and spices. It’s strange that this amazing paste derives its name from capers, whereas the major ingredient is actually olives. I love anything made […]

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