What to Eat in Switzerland: A Geneva Christmas: Cardoon Gratin Recipe

Published by Wednesday, December 19, 2012 Permalink 0
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by Jonell Galloway

From the archives


Cardoon gratin is a classic Geneva Christmas dish, but only brave souls should try to prepare them because they are prickly, and the preparation can be long and tedious. Many farmers markets in Switzerland now sell them prepared sous vide, in plastic vacuum-packed packages, which is probably the best option for those who don’t get a thrill out of getting a few pricks. In any case, it is important to schedule it carefully into your meal preparations, because it is time-consuming any way you go about it.

Cardoon Gratin Recipe

Preparation of Cardoons for Gratin

  1. Throw out any hard stems and any that are wilted.
  2. Peel the cardoons by removing leaves, spines and stringy parts. The exterior will then be covered with a fuzzy layer. Use a cloth to rub stalks gently to remove fuzz.
  3. Cut stems into 8 cm (3 cm) slices. Rub with lemon, or if you intend to use them later, put slices into lemon water so they won’t turn dark.
  4. You now have two choices: you can either cook them in a white vegetable broth you’ve made ahead of time, or you can cook them in the lemon water you soaked them in.
  5. Bring to a boil and boil until tender. It should take about 30 minutes for them to become tender, but if they are larger in diameter it can take up to 2 hours, so allow plenty of time.




















All these steps can be carried out while the cardoons are cooking. There are actually several ways of doing this. You can either make a Béchamel (white) sauce and sprinkle cheese on the cardoons before you put them in the oven, or you can make a Mornay (cheese) sauce and pour it on the cooked cardoons before putting in the oven to brown. I think it’s tastier to make a Mornay sauce, and then sprinkle a bit of cheese on the top before putting it in the oven. Here’s my recipe.


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Approximately 1 kg of cardoons
30 g of butter
1 tablespoon of flour
2.5 dl of whole milk
1 dl of cream
50 g of cheese, type Gruyère or Swiss (see photo below), grated
Lemon juice, freshly squeezed
Salt and pepper to taste

Emmentaler (also known as Swiss Cheese), while...



  1. Make a Béchamel sauce, using the proportions of ingredients above.
  2. When finished and seasoned, add cream and cheese, setting aside a tablespoon of cheese. Set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 250° C.
  4. Once cardoons are tender, drain, making sure all water is drained off.
  5. In a large bowl, mix cooked cardoons and Mornay sauce.
  6. Pour into a baking dish of the appropriate size, so that there is a layer of about 3 cm high.
  7. Sprinkle evenly with remaining grated cheese and a few knobs of butter.
  8. Put in hot oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Notes: It is important to use a hard, Swiss-type cheese. Cheddar cheese would have too strong of a taste. If you can’t find cardoons, the same recipe can be made with Swiss chard, thus eliminating the long, meticulous preparation. Simply cut them as for the cardoons and cook in chicken broth until tender, then follow the other steps in the recipe for making the gratin. Its texture is quite similar to that of cardoons.

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