We grew cardoons this year. We grew them last year too, but never got around to figuring out what to do with these stalks which are members of the thistle family, like artichokes, yet different.
With a hard frost looming last night, it was time to harvest this year’s bounty from two plants. I dug them up (the roots are shallow), then clipped off the individual stems in our basement and got to work. You want to remove the leaves and skinny part of the stems and focus on the thicker part, which is like a rib of celery.
Various web sources warn of the difficulty of prepping the stalks/stems: it’s difficult to remove the lighter colored outer layer; your hands will get stuck by spikes; chemicals in the plant turn your hands brown. Maybe we had a hybrid that had been bred to solve these problems, or maybe the couple of previous frosts had an effect. The pale outer layer pretty much came away with the leaves, except for a residue that could be removed with a fingernail.
I soaked the stems in an acidulated bath (couple of splashes of white vinegar in a gallon of water) while figuring out what to do next. Andy at Mariquita Farm has a bunch of advice on cardoons because he once diabolically included them in his CSA. He advises you should think artichoke, since that’s another member of the thistle family. If you have a recipe that works for artichoke, it will probably work for cardoon.
So I boiled my stems for maybe 10 minutes at the end of which time they were edible, yet still crunchy. I drained them and then did a prep where I sautéed some garlic, tossed in the cardoon, added some capers and salt and preserved lemon. The result was good, though cardoon contributed little more than texture.
Andy also talks about fried cardoon (dip the boiled stalks into egg, then a seasoned flour) and a pasta like a puttanesca but with chopped cardoon. I’ve got some left over so may try them. But the truth is this vegetable has not won me over. At least they look impressive while they’re growing.