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December 10, 2011

Cardoons - So Yummy, It's Cardunculous.

CYNARA CARDUNCULUS, or the COMMON CARDOON - IT LOOKS LIKE FUZZY CELERY WITH THORNS, OR AN ARTICHOKE PLANT ( WHICH IT BOTANICALLY IS), HAS RECENTLY BECOME A STYLISH ORNAMENTAL FOR THE SUMMER GARDEN, WITH ITS LARGE, THISTLE-LIKE FOLIAGE, AND GREYISH COLOR.

 Worth growing for many reasons, the Cardoon is gaining in popularity as an ornamental, often seen in trendy perennial borders, where young plants set out in spring, grow into massive, grey-foliaged urn-shaped forms which compliment many planting schemes. What many new gardeners do know, is that history of this plant, a popular medievil and ancient European vegetable, even grown in colonial America as a late autumn and early winter vegetable. Today, the crop is still cultivated in France, particularly the Savoie and Provence, where the trimmed thick, white stems are braised, and slow-cooked with various alpine cheeses, cream and Parmesian - how could anything combined with that, be bad? I think it's time that we re-discover the other benefits of this ancient vegetable, consumed since the 4th Century, that makes even the oldest heirloom tomato, seem infantile.
CARDOONS, ARE  KNOWN IN ITALY AS CARDONE, CARDUNI, OR CARDI, THIS THISTLE-LIKE RELATIVE OF THE ARTICHOKE IS A POPULAR VEGETABLE IN MANY MEDITERRANEAN HOLIDAY RECIPIES, ESPECIALLY IN GREECE, PORTUGAL, MOROCCO, LYBIA CROATIA, FRANCE AND ITALY, WHERE IT IS FOUND IN MANY CHRISTMAS EVE DISHES.

One can't write about cardoons, without mentioning artichokes, for the two share a small genus ( Cynara) and they are so close, in fact, that only the species name changes, and many selections are difficult to define when seen growing side-by-side in the garden. Some selections of wild cardoons in Sicily even have edible buds, like artichokes.
Cardoons are easy to grow in many temperate gardens ( Zones 3-6 as annuals, and they may winter over in warmer zones), the plant is best cultivated as an annual. Seeds must be started indoors, early in the year, for they require a long growing season. I order my seed in January, and start them along with artichokes, in early February in the greenhouse. Young plants grow best with bright light, so keep seedlings under lights if you do not have a greenhouse, with the lights set at 16 hours of day-length. 


Cynar, an Italian aperitif, is a liqueur which takes advantage of the bitterness found in cardoons and artichokes. Hip New York restaurants, like Mario Batali's BABBO, serves wonderful cocktails with this liqueur, some with blood orange juice, gin and it is included in authentic negroni's instead of Campari.

BLANCHED CARDOONS ARE HARVESTED IN NOVEMBER, CUT AT THE BASE, WITH THE CUT END WIPED IN LEMON JUICE TO PREVENT BROWNING. WATCH OUT FOR THE TINY SPINES!

BLANCHING STEMS and HARVEST

Cardoon stems must be blanched before eating because they can be very bitter. In gardening terms, this means wrapping them stems in a light-block material for approximately four weeks starting in late September, which will turn the stems white if you are successful in blocking out all light. Old gardening books, such as the Vilmorin vegetable guide advises that the stalks be wrapped in hay tightly, and then have the soil earthed-up around the bundles. Newer methods use any opaque material along with cord, to tie the plants into grocery-store celery-like bundles.  There are self-blanching varieties, or if you really want to be authentic, you can wrap the mature plants in October with tar paper or black sheeting, tied tightly around the stems, so that they grow white ( a method used in Europe), or use specially designed cardoon blanchers, terra cotta tubes that fit around the stems.




1 comment :

  1. Like the texture, I may try those next year. Thanks for the information.

    ReplyDelete

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