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Cardoon takes work, but worth it

Recipe: Artichoke cousin needs triple blanching to remove bitterness

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Cardoon is an artichoke cousin, but instead of flower buds, eat the stems.
(Photos: Debbie Arrington)
Like its close cousin artichoke, cardoon is a spring oddball. How did people ever figure out how to eat it?

Handsome in the garden, cardoon looks like a gigantic artichoke plant, growing 5 or 6 feet tall and wider across. But instead of edible flower buds, this thistle is valued for the center stem of its wide silvery leaves.

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Remove fuzz with a metal spoon.
Trimmed of its leaflets, that stem looks like a giant celery stalk, often 18 to 24 inches long. Naturally bitter, that stalk has ridges with tough strings on one side, silvery fuzz on the curved inner side. Both strings and fuzz need to be removed before using.

Making cardoon palatable takes work. But the end result is delicious, like artichoke heart in stalk form. It's an Italian delicacy and worth the time, if you're lucky enough to get some stalks. (Look for them in farmers markets.)

Traditionally, cardoon is marinated (like artichoke hearts) and served in salads or as part of an antipasto plate. Don't skip on the blanching; it helps remove the bitterness and brings out that artichoke flavor.

Marinated cardoon
Makes 1 pint
Ingredients:
4 stalks cardoon
Salt
Juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Instructions:
Wash cardoon and remove any leaflets along edges.
With a metal spoon, scrape off silver fuzz from inside each stalk. With a sharp knife, remove strings from ridges on back of each stalk.
Cut stalks crosswise into 1-inch pieces.

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Blanche cardoon pieces THREE times
before marinating
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Plunge cardoon pieces into boiling water. Blanch for 3 to 4 minutes.
Drain and repeat blanching TWO MORE times. (Yes, cardoon needs triple blanching.)
After the third blanching, cardoon should be fork-tender.
Mix together lemon juice, olive oil and seasoning. Pack cardoon pieces into a jar or other non-reactive covered container. Pour marinade over cardoon pieces. Stir to mix.
Cover tightly and place jar or container in refrigerator. Let cardoon marinate for a week before using.
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Add marinated cardoon to salads and antipasto.
Once marinated, it will keep in the refrigerator for at least three months.
Note: Because olive oil solidifies in the refrigerator, remove cardoon at least 30 minutes before serving.

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RECIPE

A recipe for preparing delicious meals from the bounty of the garden.

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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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