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Scallop Rosettes with Cardoons and Morel Foam

Written By Culinary Pen on Thursday, December 18, 2014 | 8:26:00 AM

My experiments in cooking often come from a range of influences, and it is interesting to see how different influences morph and combine to create something new.  In this case, it created a really terrible dish.
The last two cookbooks I read were Bitter by Jennifer McLagan and Daniel: My French Cuisine by Daniel Boulud.  In the former, Jennifer sings the praises of bitter foods, from endive and Campari to dark chocolate and tobacco.  She especially highlights the cardoon, a plant that looks like the prehistoric cousin to celery, but is actually in the artichoke family.  I've cooked cardoons a few years before, after reading about their use in the iconic Venice restaurant, Harry's Bar.   The cardoons made a very nice, artichoke-tasting soup, but fell off my radar as time went on.  Now, with cardoons fresh in my mind from Bitter, I snatched them up at our local grocers.
Overlapping escallops of scallops on greased foil
Trying to figure out what to do with the cardoons in my shopping cart, I saw medium-sized scallops on sale.  In Daniel, there's a beautiful technique of slicing scallops thinly into medallions, then overlapping them to create a rosette shape.  As the scallops cook, the thin slices seal together to create a scallop disc.  The image of sweet scallops resting on a bed of earthy cardoons began to form in my head.  In a later recipe, Daniel Boulud wraps seared scallops in a nettle-infused foam, giving the impression of a vibrant green spray of sea foam.
Whipping the morel liquid with soy lecithin to produce a foam
To help bridge the earthiness of the cardoon with the sweetness of the scallops, I toasted crushed hazelnuts and made a foam of dried morel mushroom's soaking liquid.  I was feeling very pleased with the dish.  At the base was a mixture of blanched cardoon slices, sauteed together with shallots and baby bella mushrooms.  On top was the rosette of scallops, which was just seared in a nonstick pan to set it together.  A scattering of toasted hazelnuts to finish, and then a spoonful of frothy morel foam on top and cradling the sides.
I put the plates down for Carla and myself and took a bite.  Wow...that's aggressively bitter...almost astringent... I thought.  But maybe I was being too hard on myself.  Maybe the dish is just "OK", but not as awful as that first bite.  I looked at Carla, who took her first bite.

"What do you think?" I casually enquired.
Her eyes bugged as she chewed.
"Have you tried this yet?" she asked, wondering if perhaps I was trying to poison her.
"It's that bad?"
"It's soooo bitter!" she exclaimed.

And it's true.  The dish was totally unbalanced.  The cardoon overwhelmed everything and blunted all of the other, more nuanced flavors I tried to include.  Honestly, the cardoon would have been better with equally strong ingredients; a base of cardoon and slivers of salty country ham, slices of sirloin on top, with broiled taleggio or some other pungent cheese on top.  That may have worked.  Maybe.

But I'll need to test it out myself next time, as I think my wife will be a bit wary if I place another plate of cardoons in front of her.
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