Growing and Cooking Cardoons
Plant cardoons in a well-drained, fertile, sunny spot. They will need about a 3 x 3 foot area. They grow into a lovely silvery-leaved bush about 4’ tall. Beautiful as a striking ornamental, the best part is that you get to eat them too! About 3-4 weeks before you harvest, tie up the leaves so the stems blanch. You can even cover the whole plant with a burlap bag. To harvest, cut off the stalks way down at the base. You only need to cut a few stalks at a time, so one plant will give you several meals over several weeks. To prepare them, wash well and be sure to remove all the leafy parts and stringy fibers. Cardoons lie somewhere in between celery and artichokes with a texture like that of celery and flavor like artichokes, without all the fuss. In Italy they are eaten as a crudite with bagna cauda (a rich, warm anchovy and garlic sauce) or in soups and stews. The following is my adaptation of a Spanish recipe from “the food of spain & portugal” by elisabeth luard, 2004.
Boil a pot of water and add a little salt and the lemon juice to it. While it comes to a boil, trim off all of the leafy parts of the cardoon stems as the leaves are very bitter. Peel off any big strings as you would with celery. The stalks are most tender toward their base so be sure to use that area. Slice into diagonal pieces about an inch long and boil in the lemon water for 20 min. Drain well and put into a small olive-oiled casserole or gratin dish.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a heavy sauce or frying pan and add the flour to it. Whisk together until it’s well mixed, about 2-3 min. Add the sherry and keep whisking until it just thickens. Add the broth little by little and keep whisking until it is nice and smooth and creamy. Add the optional fish and the cheese and stir until well mixed. Add the salt and pepper to taste.
Pour the sauce over the cardoons and sprinkle with the toppings. Toast under the broiler until bubbly.
Enjoy hot or at room temp.