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.
What are cardoons?
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…
How do you clean and cook cardoons
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.
Never Miss a Recipe
Prepping & blanching cardoons
2 1/2 lbs (1.1 kg) blanched cardoons
juice of 2 lemons
3 lbs (1.4 kg) cardoon stalks
1 tablespoon sea salt for blanching
- 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.
- 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.
How to prepare cardoons, step-by-step
Fill a large bowl with cold water and add half the lemon juice.
Trim both ends of cardoon stalks.
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).
Watch out for the tiny spikes along each stalk — they are very prickly!
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.
Can’t wait to harvest the wild ones growing on my property. They grow all over NYS, just gotta know what to look for. Another way to enjoy them: boil them then fry them up in a parmesan cheese omelette. Any Italian cheese will do depending on your tastes.
Thank you for these instruction and others suggestions for serving this veg. I live in Spain and just received some stalks fresh from my neighbours garden. I cannot wait to try them as we are huge fans of fresh artichokes we get from our organic veg shop at the moment.
I have 9 plants now sprouted and I hope I have enough room for them all! My Sicilian aunt would boil them, then dredge them in breadcrumbs/egg and fry them. She would then tie them in little bunches with thread and we would take them home…they are great cold! Now, I’m going to try to grow them as I have been longing for them. I found my mother’s old diary in which she tell how she and my father would go out on “cardoon hunting” dates before they were married! (This was in North Jersey.)
Gloria, my apologies for this late reply. I have two cardoon plants growing in my garden (Northern CA) and they grow up to 8ft tall… so you will need a lot of space for 9 – my goodness! The best part of growing your own is that you can use them almost year-round. The stalks get a little tough when the plants are fully grown, but the center (younger) ones can still be used and are still delicious. I hope your plants are thriving! Thank you for your comment. Viviane
My Italian mother in law made cardoon every Thanksgiving. She would dip them in eggs and bread crumbs and fry them. I loved eating them. But I don’t recall seeing her blanching them. Do you recommend this step?
Hi Helen, Yes, I do recommend blanching the stems… they’re pretty tough and fibrous otherwise. Thank you for your note. I hope you continue the tradition of eating cardoon at Thanksgiving! Viviane
I I was recently walking in my local Italian deli and to my surprise I thought I hit the million dollar lottery there was GARDOONSas I was brought up saying. They were a delicacy and a treat whenever we were able to get them. Like someone said above after they were cooked then you dip them in egg , breaded them and then fry them they were the best treat you could give to us little Sicilian children. I am so glad that I will be able to prepare them for my mom who is turning 90 on January 4th,
Thanks for the very clear instructions and suggestions for use, all of which I want to try. Need to save up for a black truffle!
I first saw cardoons in a Farmers market in France, and the lady selling them happened to be a neighbor of mine! I asked her how to cook them, and she showed me, but my French was not strong. However, I understood her gesture of pulling off the strings like for celery. My husband found them at Sprouts Market in Oklahoma this week, and I am following your directions for cooking them. Thank you so much!
Pingback: French Food at Christmas: Le Gros Souper: A French Christmas Holiday Tradition - Misadventures with Andi
I was so happy to find cardoons at Wegmans today! My family harvests them from fields were they grow wild and also in some back yards!! After cleaning and boiling them my Mom made them with an egg and flour batter -garlic powder -grated cheese baking powder -and milk . Then deep fried them. I have made them the same . It is such a delicacy to have these on our Christmas Eve table. A lot of work but soooo good!!!
Hello, I hope you see this message. I grew up with cardoons and we also have them on holidays. For thanksgiving I made it and it was sweet and delicious. I purchased more thinking I would get some ready for Christmas. So I cleaned them and I blanched them. They are so bitter even after removing all the strings. Is there anything else that I can do now to get rid of the bitterness? Any help would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.
Nina, My apologies for this terribly late reply. Blanching the cardoons in salted water should have removed all the bitterness. Maybe the stalks you got where a little too mature? Perhaps add a more salt to your boiling water next time? I hope this helps and I hope you make them again, come the holidays!
My Sicilian holiday table always had a plate of breaded fried cardoon. G’pa was up early cooking, taking a nip. I am following your steps, channeling old Vic and by dinner we shall see. Thanks.
I love cardoons and was raised on them in North Africa.
The best way to serve them is to boil them until tender, drain the water and saute them in butter with a little consomme and or cream
Thanks for the recipe tip ! Sounds yummy ! I will have to wait tho…trying to grow them from seed this year after not being able to find the seedlings at the nursery. I cant wait !!! Grew up eating artichokes so I’m super excited to eat these stalks !
Just found cardoon at my local farm co-op here in the Seattle area! My first experience and I am so grateful for the detailed instructions on bleaching them. Now I have find/figure out the next step. I love artichokes, so this should be well worth it.
Thank you for your comment Margaret, I hope your cardoons turned out delicious!
Where did you find cardoon in Seattle? I live in Seattle and I would love to buy cardoon here.
Hi, I was thrilled to find this recipe. I wonder if you have a recipe for fried cardoons. My mother-in-law made them many years ago and I loved them. Since this was years ago and Mamie is no longer with us don’t know who might have a recipe.
Hello Katherine, It is always a pleasure for me to meet another cardoon fan… so few of us out there! I don’t have a recipe for fried cardoons, but you could use this recipe (for fennel fritters) and substitute the cardoon for the fennel: https://foodandstyle.com/parmesan-crusted-fennel-fritters-with-meyer-lemon-dip/ Let me know how the fritters turn out!
I’m excited to try this. I’ve grown cardoons in Virginia for several years now. They are very hardy and surprisingly invasive, but when they bloom all is forgiven.
Mary, so excited when I see you have grown cardoons in Virginia. I, too, live in Virginia, in Chesapeake. Can you please tell me where you got seeds/plants to start you garden!? Any special instructions to be followed and when should planting begin? Thank you. My grandmother always said the wild ones were the best!
Thanks for this article. I live in and have often seen cardoons at the market but never actually prepared or eaten them – they don’t look that appetising! You have piqued my interest though so I am going to try some today.
Then you’re going to be okay what this is a staple for our Thanksgiving table and has been all my life. I could give up the turkey in place of this. We have always breaded and fried them after boiling. Right now it’s the night before Thanksgiving and I have 8 stalks of them sitting in front of me. Very time consuming but well worth it.
I couldn’t agree more, Joni! I hope your Thanksgiving was as jovial as it was delicious!
That’s how we cook them too, but for Christmas Eve. Sooooooooo good!!
We always had them breaded and fried too. We find it hard to find them but this year we were lucky! This year our Thanksgiving table will be complete!
I now have two cardoon plants i my garden growing up to 3 metres. The enormous leaves are silvery but the leaf is bitter to eat. How do I harvest my plants without loosing them, at what time of year ( I live in the midlands of the UK); how f can I get the celery like bunches without destroying the plants.
Hello Rosalind, You are obviously doing something right with your cardoons – my goodness! You can harvest the stems that are on the outside (not the heart), this way, you do not destroy your plant. Best to do that when the stems are young, though. I’m afraid more mature stems will be very fibrous. Read this article about growing cardoons: https://harvesttotable.com/how_to_grow_cardoon/ I hope you find it helpful.
where can I order and buy fresh whole cardoons for cooking? ARE THERE FARMS THAT ARE NEARBY WHERE I LIVE IN CALIFORNIA IN ANAHEIM HILLS Z.C. 92808. I was born and raised in Morocco where we loved to cook the whole cardoons with stalks and leaves in stews with garlic cloves,red pickled olived in a lemony sause.. W also ate wild grown spinney artichokes which we cooked in salted boiling water until tender .It is a wonderful tasty vegetable. Please help me find where I can order them as I am disabled to go searching on my own. I THANK YOU IN ADANCE FOR YOUR HELP.
Hello Monique, Thank you so much for your comment. It is lovely to meet someone who is a cardoon fan! I live in Northern CA and almost every store here carries cardoons when they’re in season. Many people also grow them. If you have a backyard, perhaps you can plant some? Cardoons plants/seeds are very easy to find online or at your local nursery.
Otherwise, this farm in Southern CA grows cardoons: http://www.agrilicious.org/Chino-Farm (their website http://www.chinofamilyfarm.com/) You may want to give them a call and see if they do a Farmers’ Market near you or if they would ship you some? Good luck!
I found my cardoons at wegmans (of all places) your website helped me to know how long I can keep them in the fridge after cooking them and before frying them on Easter Sunday. Thank you
You are most welcome, Marie. Enjoy your cardoons!
Cardoon is one of the most popular vegetables in Morocco. It is used mostly in tagines stews.I m glad other people outside Morocco also use it in different dishes
I also make it dipped in egg and baking powder and sautéed in olive oil..delicious…the same way you would prepare
squash flowers…unfortumately, here in Venice, Florida, there is none to be found….
I am in Venice, Florida and can usually find cardone at Publix. In fact I was there today, Nov. 24, 2020 and asked the produce guy if he was getting any this year and he produced 2 large stalks. What a surprise! I usually save this dish for Christmas Eve but this year? Who knows? Geri Becker
how long can you freeze cooked cardoons for? I want to get some of the prep done in advance before we make them into fritters for Christmas Eve (an old family tradition. Yes, we’re Italian!) Thank you!
Hi Paula, You can freeze the cardoons the same amount of time as you would freeze any other vegetables. But my recommendations would be 3 to 4 weeks. Happy holidays to you and yours!
We’re growing cardoon. I’m having trouble finding information about cultivation and preservation. I have so much to learn! I’m hopeful it cans well. Our garden is very small, and I’ve taken space from The Hubs beloved artichokes to grow the cardoon. If I can can several jars of the stalks, he won’t complain about having home-canned artichoke heart substitutes readily available.
In the stuff you buy at the farmers’ market, do you get stalks that are somewhat porous-looking? Many of mine are, and I’m not sure what that means. That happens to our celery, especially when it’s getting a little old. But since I’m guessing at how much water it wants and when it’s ready to harvest, I have no idea how to interpret this.
Hi Kim! My apologies for this late reply, I’ve been a little too busy of late. I’ve never grown cardoons (although that’s about to change!), but I would say that the porous stalks are due to age. Best to harvest them when they’re young. This happens to celery, but also to rhubarb. As for canning them, they should do as well as artichokes. Thank you for your comment and enjoy your harvest!
My family makes this every year for Christmas as well. I have taken on the task of cooking them now that my grandma has passed. This year I blanched them ahead of time and they turned neon green. Have any ideas as to why?
Hi Angela! I have no idea why, but it might have to do with your water. Did you use tap water? Also, did you use salt to blanch the cardoons?
just a note..if you can grow artichokes in your area, you can grow cardoon. my grandmother use to cook with cardoon, mostly in soup. it is very tasty.
Pingback: Cardoon soup with black truffle carpaccio | Food & Style
Pingback: A rainbow of local produce… | The 4th Street Food Co-op
Pingback: Produce Delivery, Friday 10/28 | The 4th Street Food Co-op
Pingback: Cardoon velouté with black truffle carpaccio — food & style
Wow, I’ve never even heard of these! Thanks for introducing me to them.
Very very interesting. I hope to come across these one day, I will definitely try them.
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!
Pingback: THE RAMBLING EPICURE » Blog Archive » About cardoons, Geneva’s favorite winter vegetable
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!
When I had my 1st dinner at my future husbands Sicilian grandfathers house in Brooklyn 40 yrs ago fried Cardoon was served. All these years later, I’ve found them in a local produce market on Long Island. Now that I know how to prepare them properly, I can’t wait to make them for my husband!!! Such a wonderful family memory he’ll be served!!
Oh, Sue! I am delighted to hear that this recipe is allowing you to revisit a family favorite. So few people know about cardoons… they are under the radar of most cooks. So your note really made my day!!! You may want to look at this recipe for your fritters: https://allweathermedia.com/parmesan-crusted-fennel-fritters-with-meyer-lemon-dip/ Just substitute the blanched cardoons for the fennel. Here’s wishing you a fun time making (and eating!) your fritters!
My Mother made Cardone every holiday, my wife non Italian has carried out the tradition for 62 years. Our families love them. Fried. Egg dip and Italian bread crumbs.
Pingback: Cardoon velouté with black truffle carpaccio « food & style
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.
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! 🙂
Wow, interesting. I’ve actually never seen one. But now I’ll be on the lookout!
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!
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!
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.
In North Jersey you can also often find these at Corrado’s in Clifton on Main Ave.
I like DePiero’s, too!
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
they remind me a bit of celery! they are delicious though and I love the step by step photos as well
Cardoons are so delicious… great to see someone take the scary unknown of preparing them into the light… cardoon soup sounds awesome.
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.
BTW, Thank you also for sharing were you’ve seen cardoons for sale. That’s very helpful!
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!)