I bought the seed earlier this year from an American outlet, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and have been pleasantly surprised. A bit like a cross between celery and silverbeet stems with some added innocuous little spines that wipe off easily.
Both the stems and flowers are edible, though it will be some time before I get to eat a flower and I'll probably leave the first one in the hope of more seed for the future.
I've looked at a few You Tube preparation videos and people seem intent on removing all fibre from the stems with a peeler. This may be necessary if my plants become old and tough, but I like fibre in my food and I don't find it necessary to prepare them this way at the moment.
I've mainly been using the stems in stews and casseroles but here are some more recipes I've just found online that sound really good complete with some good advice about preparation:
Cardoons are cousins of artichokes and thistles. They are cultivated for their edible stalks, much like celery, but they aren't eaten raw. Traditionally grown and served in European Mediterranean areas, cardoons have been revered as delicacies there for over 300 years.
Cardoon is a vegetable like artichoke in that it oxidises and discolors. Chefs will usually toss it into acidulated water (water with lemon juice) to keep it from discoloring.
When thinking of cardoon, keep the flavor of artichokes in your mind when planning the dish.
Let's address our elephant in the room immediately: the Cardoon! I will be the first to admit that I have not shown much love to this vegetable. The last time I tried it, which was years ago, I quite unsuccessfully put it into a tabbouleh, hoping its artichoke-like flavor might fit nicely into the salad. I'm sure I didn't cook the cardoon properly, so my attempt yielded a stringy, tough cardoon that was completely unappetizing. This year, it was my mission to give it the respect its elder status has earned, so I found two dishes for you that are worth making. Up front, a classic French preparation that is rich and delicious, a creamy gratin. This recipe was mined from an old issue of Saveur, and is apparently a famous dish from Tours, prime cardoon country. Make sure you do not short the cardoon its cooking time. That's the key to making it palatable. Also keep in mind that it acts like a sponge, so be sure the liquid you use to cook it in tastes really good.
3 cups cream
1 cup chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 cup gruyere, grated
Put the cream, stock, and bay leaf in a large saucepan and season with salt and pepper.
Trim your cardoons, then slice them into pieces around 2 inches long, immediately dropping them into the cream bath to prevent discoloring.
Heat the cardoons until the cream comes to a boil, then simmer over medium-low heat for about an hour. Remove the cardoon pieces with a slotted spoon, putting them into a gratin/casserole dish and continue to boil the cream until reduced to 3/4 c.
Pour the cream over the cardoons, top with the gruyere, and bake at 350 until the top has colored a little bit, about 30 minutes. Serve warm.
Sauteed Cardoon with Thyme and Pine Nuts
Almost all the cardoon recipes I found used a lot of cream and cheese or deep fried the stalk. I wanted to find a method that anyone could eat, not just those of us who never watch what we eat. I discovered a recipe on the Hunter Angler Gardener Cook blog. This is indeed worth making. Remember that cardoon discolors like artichoke hearts do, so make sure it goes immediately into its cooking water after trimming.
1/2 lb cardoon, trimmed
1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 T olive oil
2 T sherry
2 T honey
1/4 c pine nuts, toasted
1 T thyme (fresh)
Bring a pot of salted water to boil and squeeze in the juice of 1 lemon. Cut the cardoon into large pieces and simmer for 45 minutes. Remove and cut into 1/2 inch pieces.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet and add the onion. Saute until softened and beginning to color, then toss in the cardoon for about 2 minutes. Add the sherry and reduce it until it is nearly evaporated, then add the honey, stirring to heat through. Add the pine nuts and cook for another minute or so until the sauce is thick. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper, finishing with the thyme. Delicious!
Cardoon Potato Gratin:
8-10 stalks Cardoon
2-3 medium potatoes
8 oz grated parmesan cheese
1 pint half and half or cream
S & P to taste
Blanch the cardoon stalks in water that has a splash of vinegar or lemon juice until medium tender. You can peel them if you like. We don't. Cut the cardoon stalks in 1/4 inch crescents, across the grain, like you would celery. Peel the potatoes. Cut the potatoes into batons, about like a french fry. Toss the cut, blanched cardoon stalks with the potatoes directly in a gratin dish. Reserve a handful of the cheese for the top and toss the rest of the cheese with the cardoon/potato mixture. Add the pint of half and half (or cream if using.) Season with salt and pepper.
Bake in a 425 oven 40 minutes or so: until golden brown and the potatoes are all the way through.
Soup of Pureed Cardoons
adapted from Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables by Elizabeth Schneider
Elizabeth said about this recipe: This puree looks and tastes like artichoke hearts: but less work and money.
2 pounds cardoons
4 cups broth: beef or other broth
4 cups water
4 small shallots, sliced (or onion, leek, etc. if you don't have shallots on hand)
few sprigs parsley
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, roughtly crushed (I'd use my mortar and pestle for this, you can also try a ziploc bag with a rolling pin)
6 tablespoons write rice, medium or short grain
Salt, White pepper, and lemon juice to taste
2 Tablespoons cold butter
2 Tablespoons thinly sliced toasted almonds
1. Cut off the base and leaves from the cardoon stalks; rinse well, and cut crosswise into 1-2 inch slices. Cover with cold water; bring to a boil, then drain.
2. Add the stock, water, shallots, parsley, coriander, and rice to the cardoon. Simmer, partly covered, until tender - about 45 minutes.
3. Puree mixture very thoroughly in a food processor or hefty blender in batches. Strain through a sieve.
4. Return to pot. Season with salt, white pepper, and lemon juice to tast. Reheat gently. Off heat, stir in the butter. Ladle into heated bowls and sprinkle with almonds.
Below - roasted Cardoon stalks. Fibrous threads have been removed prior to brushing with olive oil and roasting for about 30mins. Described as "a bit chewy but with a lovely artichoke flavour".
The Cardoon have been a very useful veg throughout winter and have been a big hit with anyone I have given stems to. As you can see above the plants are still going strong....I'm now wondering for how much longer. I read someones elses post on the net that they cut them back and they came again.
Wondering how long before I get flowers also. I've emailed Baker Creek Heirloom Seed to thank them for all the items I bought that did well (Rapini Broccolli, carrots of various types, Strawberry Spinach - almost lost under the front of the Cardoon in the pic above and so far not ulilised) and asking for more info about it's growing habits.
The stems can flop over onto neighbouring plants but are easy cut back (watch out for the small thorns along the edges - these are easily wiped off with the secateurs).
I try not to waste too many but quite a few have ended up back in the bed as worm food. They're just so darned prolific! Nothing seems to set them back. They do wilt a tiny bit in the current dry heat, but a bit of a drink fixes that quickly. I've found a few caterpillars sitting on the leaves but no real sign of damage, I think they ended up there in error or found the leaf not to their liking (rather bitter).
No diseases seem to bother it either.
Definately a keeper for future years. Fingers crossed that I get viable seed from this lot. I still have some left from the original batch and have also given seed to Elaine and Nathan, just in case.