My final Globe and Mail article for the 2010 growing season was on growing and eating cardoon. Cardoon is lesser-known relative of the artichoke that is considered a delicacy in Mediterranean cuisine. Like artichokes it grows into a stately and somewhat dangerous thistle-like plant, but unlike artichokes you eat the stems, not the flower buds. It tastes a lot like artichoke, too.
His spot was ideal, whereas mine fell a bit short. My cardoon grew well enough, but stayed small. The plant at Barry’s got just want it needed and then some. It was really sunny, warm, protected, and in soil that was well watered but very free-draining. Mine was in rich soil with lots of organic matter, but watering was inconsistent (we ran out of water at the garden for a time), and the only spot I could afford was a bit cramped with a taller, more robust plant that shaded out the young cardoon a bit too much.
Last weekend we finally went to Barry’s to harvest the cardoon. It turned out to be the biggest I have ever seen. The yield from one plant was a lot more than I’ve seen in stores or purchased myself. We actually got enough out of it to make 2 batches of cardoon gratin (see recipe below), whereas a typical stalk yields only one.
Many cardoon growers say that going to the trouble of blanching the stems is unnecessary, but now that I have done it, I disagree. For such a large and fibrous plant the stalks we blanched were tender and delicious. I didn’t have to overcook them the way I’ve had to with some of the bunches I have purchased in the past.
I stick by my original assessment. Cardoon is a bit of a pain, and an absolute nightmare to prepare and cook, but it is a stunning plant and a delectable, but acquired taste. What can I say? Some of the best things in life don’t come easy.