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Cardoon takes work, but worth it

Cardoon is an artichoke cousin, but instead of flower buds, eat the stems. (Photos: Debbie Arrington)
Recipe: Artichoke cousin needs triple blanching to remove bitterness

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.

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
4 stalks cardoon
Juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

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.
Blanche cardoon pieces THREE times before marinating.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Plunge cardoon pieces into boiling water. Blanche 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.
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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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of June 4:

Because of the comfortable weather, it’s not too late to set out tomato and pepper seedlings as well as squash and melon plants. They’ll appreciate this not-too-hot weather. Just remember to water.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes.

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the wee hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

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