Each week at the market I try to pick up something that I’ve never had before (this is an aspirational goal, often times I can’t be bothered to spend more than 10 minutes at the market just grabbing the staples). For a few weeks I’d seen big, green, leafy stalks that I could tell were clearly related to an artichoke (I grew artichokes last year and tried to eat nearly every part of the plant – eating the stem of the leaves, or too far below the blossom does not go well. Unless you have the jaw and stomachs of a cow), but wasn’t too sure what they were. I finally got around to asking the farmer, who told me that they were called cardoon, and were indeed within the artichoke family. But unlike the artichoke plant where the flower bud is eaten, with cardoon, you eat the stem of each leaf – giving some sense to my experimentation.
Cardoon is a plant that originated in the Mediterranean region, and has been a part of the cuisine of Greek, North African, and various European countries for a long time (thanks, Wikipedia!). It is even considered a weed in certain parts of the world. I’ve never grown cardoon (clearly), but have read up on how with its tiny thorns/spines, as well as the “blanching” it requires (basically wrapping the plant, while still in the ground, with burlap for a month or so before harvesting), which helps soften the plant and reduce bitterness before cooking), it can be a pain.
Cardoon tastes pretty similar to artichoke, though when I cooked it, I picked up on some notes that were similar to rhubarb as well, another stem crop. Though cardoon and rhubarb are similar in appearance, they are not in fact part of the same family. Rhubarb is sweet and cardoon is definitely savory like an artichoke, but nonetheless, with the cardoon I got, I noticed some taste similarities. As far as preparation, they first require stripping the leaves away from the stalk, which I did handily with my chef’s knife. It can be steamed or braised, and also fried. Cardoon is also used in soups and one-pot meals – anything that will give it enough time to really cook.
When I approach a new ingredient, I try to prepare it as simply as possible the first go ’round. With the cardoon I got, I simply cut it into 1 inch pieces and steamed it for a good fifteen minutes. I then gave it a quick saute in butter and hit it with salt, pepper, and a little lemon juice to balance some of the bitterness. This gave me a good sense for the ingredient, and spawned a few ideas for future recipes. I think cardoon would do well in a savory pie-type dish with prosciutto or something. But I’ll save that for another day.
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