5 pounds cardoons
¼ cup salt, plus 2 teaspoons
2 lemons, halved
5 tablespoons butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
½ teaspoon freshly grated Pecorino Toscano
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (homemade or store-bought)
Trim off the top leaves and stalks of the cardoons until they resemble a bunch of celery, 10 to 14 inches in length. Separate each stalk and use a paring knife to peel off the outer fibrous ribs and hard green skin.
Fill a stockpot or pasta pot two-thirds to three-quarters full with water (about 10 cups), and add ¼ cup of the salt. Squeeze the lemon juice into the water and add the lemon shells. Cut each cardoon into 3 pieces, 4 to 5 inches length, and immediately plunge them into the acidulated (lemon) water to prevent discoloration. Place the stockpot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 1 hour, or until the cardoons are tender. Remove from the heat and drain the cardoons in a colander. Allow them to cool.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until melted. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Cook until the mixture is a light golden brown, 6 to 7 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate saucepan until just about to boil.
Add the hot milk to the flour mixture, 1 cup at a time, whisking constantly until very smooth. Bring to a boil. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove the pan from the heat, and season the sauce with the 2 teaspoon salt and the nutmeg.
Lay the cardoon pieces in a baking dish and pour the sauce over the to cover. Sprinkle with the grated cheese and the breadcrumbs, and bake in the oven until the top is dark golden brown and the mixture is very bubbly, 30 to 35 minutes.
Recipe courtesy of “Molto Batali” (ecco 2011)