Prepping and blanching cardoons

Cardoons

On a busy winter day, I was speeding down the vegetable aisle at my local supermarket when, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something completely unexpected: cardoons. My cart came to a screeching halt and I turned my head so fast I almost gave myself whiplash!

To my disbelief, I was indeed looking at cardoons, neatly stacked next to the leeks. How could that be? My local supermarket is hardly a gourmet store and yet — there they were. I quickly grabbed two bunches and happily trotted home.

Perhaps you’ll think, How can anyone get excited about a cardoon? I’ll confess that I was not just excited about this find, I was elated! The last time I’d seen cardoons in their plant form (as opposed to on my plate at one of Mario Batali’s restaurants) was a few years ago in Venice, piled high in a crate on the deck of a vegetable vendor’s boat. I remember letting out a sigh, wishing I could find such exotic veggies back home.

You might be wondering, What on earth is a cardoon, anyway? A thistle-like plant, cardoons (also called cardone) grow abundantly in the Mediterranean and are usually in season from November to March. A close relative to the globe artichoke, the cardoon looks a bit like celery on steroids, growing as tall as six feet. It has thorny, silver-grey leaves and pompom-like purple blossoms. It’s not exactly a friendly-looking vegetable and it probably won’t make you salivate at first sight.

Unless, of course, you know what a treasure for the palate lies underneath that protective garb…

Just like with its cousin the artichoke, a little bit of work is needed to get the succulent part of this plant on your plate. But unlike artichokes, it’s not the blossoms we’re after, but the stalks. Their delicate artichoke-like flavor is as refined as it is addictive.

Once you’ve trimmed and peeled the stalks, it’s wise to blanch them in order to remove their sometimes considerable bitterness (see the step-by-step instructions and pictures below). I also find that adding a little lemon juice along with the salt to the blanching water brightens up the cardoons’ delicate flavor.

Cardoons lend themselves to many wonderful dishes: gratins, bagna cauda (a traditional Piedmont dish of barely blanched cardoon stalks served with a garlicky dipping sauce), fritters, stews (gently braised on their own or with other vegetables) and soups (like this cardoon velouté with black truffle carpaccio). Whichever recipe you decide to explore, I know you’ll discover something precious, even a bit mysterious, in this magical plant.

Cardoon soup with black truffle carpaccio

Prepping and blanching cardoons

yields 2 1/2 lbs (1.1 kg) blanched cardoons
active time: 20 min

  1. juice of 2 lemons
  2. 3 lbs (1.4 kg) cardoon stalks
  3. 1 tablespoon sea salt for blanching

  1. Step 1: Fill a large bowl with cold water and add half the lemon juice. Set aside. Trim both ends of cardoon stalks and all leaves. Using a paring knife, shave the edges off each stalk (they have little spikes on them), and peel off the large protruding ribs (as you would a celery stalk). Cut each stalk crosswise in 1” pieces and immediately place in the lemon water bath.
  2. Step 2: To blanch the cardoons – Fill a large bowl with cold water and several ice cubes. Set aside. Fill a large heavy-bottomed pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the balance of lemon juice and salt. Drain the cardoon pieces and add them to the boiling water. Boil for 15 to 20 minutes until just tender, but still a bit firm. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and transfer to the ice water bath until cool. Drain on a kitchen towel or paper towel. Once dry, transfer to a bowl and use in your recipe of choice, or place in a sealed container and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Step-by-step

Fill a large bowl with cold water and add half the lemon juice.

Trim both ends of cardoon stalks.

Trim all leaves.

Watch out for the tiny spikes along each stalk — they are very prickly!

Using a paring knife, shave the edges of each stalk, making sure to remove those tiny spikes; and peel off the large protruding ribs (as you would a celery stalk).

Cut each stalk crosswise in 1” pieces…

… and immediately place in the lemon water bath.

Fill a large heavy-bottom pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the balance of lemon juice and salt.

Drain the cardoon pieces and add them to the boiling water. Boil for 15 to 20 minutes until just tender, but still a bit firm.

Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and transfer to the ice water bath until cool.

Drain on kitchen towel or paper towel.


Cardoons

dessert, gelato, cardamon

22 Comments

  • Reply zested January 17, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    Wow, I’ve never even heard of these! Thanks for introducing me to them.

  • Reply Lori Lynn January 11, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    Very very interesting. I hope to come across these one day, I will definitely try them.
    LL

  • Reply vintagejenta December 24, 2009 at 9:23 am

    I’ve also seen cardoons at Adam’s Fairacre Farms, which has stores in Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, and Kingston, NY. They look like a little work, but I love the flavor of artichokes, so I might have to try them now!

  • Reply Lisa December 22, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    My Sicilian family has been making cardoons ever since I was little. It’s usually a part of our Christmas dinner. What my grandmother does is once they are prepared, she dips them in egg then in breadcrumbs (italian), then pans fry them. Once they are golden brown she sticks them in the oven with a little parmesean on top and bakes them. They are delish this way..and honestly the only way I’ve ever eaten them! Mangia!

  • Reply Dana Treat December 22, 2009 at 1:44 am

    I have seen recipes for cardoons (mostly in Alice Waters’ books) but never knew anything about them. Thank you for such an informative post! Now I can’t wait to see what you do with them.

  • Reply kamran siddiqi December 22, 2009 at 12:34 am

    Beautiful!!! I have never had cardoons before (at least I don’t think so) but if I do find some, I’ll be sure to try your method out! :)

  • Reply tastyeatsathome December 21, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    Wow, interesting. I’ve actually never seen one. But now I’ll be on the lookout!

  • Reply wasabi prime December 21, 2009 at 11:38 am

    Marvelous — I always learn something new here! I’ve not seen nor had these, but I will most certainly keep a keen eye out for them, as the flavor sounds delectable!

  • Reply Shelly Huang December 21, 2009 at 10:56 am

    I’ve never heard of this before and now really want to try it! It looks a little bit like celery, actually. Will look out for it next time i’m in the market!

  • Reply Lucy December 21, 2009 at 10:28 am

    I happen to be another one that just loves cardoon. Recently my produce clerk at Stop & Shop, ordered them for me… it pays to make friends at your local produce dept. I also tried growing them in my garden, should be a perennial in my area, but they never come back.

  • Reply jmz December 20, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    In North Jersey you can also often find these at Corrado’s in Clifton on Main Ave.

    I like DePiero’s, too!

    Cheers!

  • Reply annie December 20, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    Found your site on tastespotting. I have wondered how to prepare cardoons. I tried growing them last year, but didn’t do well with them as I was away when a stray cat decided to dig up a portion of my garden. Anyway, this encourages me to try again. There are several interesting recipes in The Silver Spoon cookbook, also. Thanks

  • Reply Jessie December 20, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    they remind me a bit of celery! they are delicious though and I love the step by step photos as well

  • Reply deana@lostpastremembered December 20, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    Cardoons are so delicious… great to see someone take the scary unknown of preparing them into the light… cardoon soup sounds awesome.

  • Reply Viviane Bauquet Farre December 20, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    Jenny, Thank you for your comment. You know, cardoons are very loved in Italy and France. In fact the Ancient Greeks and Romans cooked with them and they were considered a delicacy… AI tend to trust that!

    I will be posting a cardoon soup this coming Tuesday. It’s incredibly delicate and just plain sublime!

    So I do wish you try them… My goal has always been to expand people’s experience of food. There is so, so much for us all to discover and taste.

    Bon appétit!

    BTW, Thank you also for sharing were you’ve seen cardoons for sale. That’s very helpful!

  • Reply Jenny Jo December 20, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Came here from Foodgawker. So happy to see you blog about these! I used to see cardoons regularly in a certain store, and was curious, but all the recipes I could find basically said, “these are a lot of work and the result is not very exciting.” Maybe I’ll pick some up and experiment…

    Places I’ve seen cardoons for sale:
    Berkeley Bowl in Berkeley, CA (usually around christmas time)
    Stop ‘n’ Shop in East Setauket, NY (in Suffolk County on Long Island–this was like two days ago!)

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