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I spoke to Hans, the Swiss farmer, who said that he grew cardoons last year, but never brought them to market because they were too bitter. Turns out he tried it raw when making that decision.

After I made my purchase, he offered to bring some to market for me as a special order.

Anyone else for cardoons?

Also spoke to someone who sells meat. See more about that conversation on "Obtaining..." thread.

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I spoke to Hans, the Swiss farmer, who said that he grew cardoons last year, but never brought them to market because they were too bitter.  Turns out he tried it raw when making that decision.

After I made my purchase, he offered to bring some to market for me as a special order.

Anyone else for cardoons?

Also spoke to someone who sells meat.  See more about that conversation on "Obtaining..." thread.

i just looked up some information on cardoons, and the first thing i read said they are a winter vegetable and taste sweet, but turn unpleasantly bitter in the spring and can also be woody. do you have experience with this? i'm always looking to try cooking something new, but not if this is the wrong time of year. i've never cooked baby nettles before, either, and haven't seen any at the market. i know from experience that once they start growing, there is nothing worse than walking through a patch of nettles and i don't think i would even want to try eating them at this point. i think i saw some on the menu at palena in ravioli, but the restaurant was closed for a wedding when i went looking for them on saturday. is it too late for nettles too?

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i just looked up some information on cardoons, and the first thing i read said they are a winter vegetable and taste sweet, but turn unpleasantly bitter in the spring and can also be woody. do you have experience with this?

I was told cardoons are grown late in the fall in California. When I mentioned this to Hans, he said, "They're a perennial." Perhaps his bad tasting experience was compounded by the season, but cooking the stalks would have been a good idea, too. Also see second link below.

Here's some information.

They were featured in a salad at Chez Panisse Cafe late in March: Post 14.

In Piemonte, and therefore Galileo, cardoons are used in sformati, a type of savory flan that Mario Batali also includes in Molto Italiano.

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I was told cardoons are grown late in the fall in California.  When I mentioned this to Hans, he said, "They're a perennial."  Perhaps his bad tasting experience was compounded by the season, but cooking the stalks would have been a good idea, too. Also see second link below.

Here's some information

They were featured in a salad at Chez Panisse Cafe late in March: Post 14.

In Piemonte, and therefore Galileo, cardoons are used in sformati, a type of savory flan that Mario Batali also includes in Molto Italiano.

i usually pass by his stand about quarter after nine. i'll grab some if he has them there, just out of curiosity, and it sounds like maybe they can work out when they are bitter. when in doubt, i always start by trying to work new ingredients into a sauce for pasta.

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i usually pass by his stand about quarter after nine. i'll grab some if he has them there, just out of curiosity, and it sounds like maybe they can work out when they are bitter. when in doubt, i always start by trying to work new ingredients into a sauce for pasta.

Someone, please send a PM to help me master the double quote since I have tried unsuccessfully to add an earlier quotation to this one above.

Giant Shrimp: Reread my original post about cardoons. You will not be able to grab any from Hans, but do speak to him personally and let him know of your interest. If he is guaranteed customers for his cardoons, he'd be more willing to grow them and bring them to market...or bring in a special order if demand is limited.

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Someone, please send a PM to help me master the double quote since I have tried unsuccessfully to add an earlier quotation to this one above.

Giant Shrimp:  Reread my original post about cardoons.  You will not be able to grab any from Hans, but do speak to him personally and let him know of your interest.  If he is guaranteed customers for his cardoons, he'd be more willing to grow them and bring them to market...or bring in a special order if demand is limited.

i will broach the subject with him, and ask him to grow them, provided that he can tell me they are not as bitter as dandelion greens. i guess i was hoping they would just be there. thanks.

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I was told cardoons are grown late in the fall in California. 

I grew cardoons in my garden in Santa Monica-- like artichokes, you don't get much of anything the first year. It was early fall of the second year that I had enough stalk to harvest. I peeled but didn't soak them before cooking and they were delicious, like artichoke heart. I can see how, if they are overwintered, you'd get woody stalks from the previous year in Spring. Blech. New growth wouldn't be substantial enough to harvest until the fall.

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Heinz forgot the cardoons, but promised them next week & asked me to send an email to remind him.  So if you think you'd like a few, look for the link for Next Step Produce above to send word, too.

i asked him about the cardoons and he said, shoot, shoot, shoot. also, he said he really didn't know much about them, he just tasted a leaf out in the field and it was bitter. but that was the end of our conversation on the topic, so i will get in touch with him. thanks.

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Giant Shrimp:

When Heinz does come through, and especially if the cardoons are better than he thinks they are, I intend to bring him a sample or two of what they're like when they're cooked. It may be an incentive to continue growing them.

I planned on making sformati (Mario Batali has a recipe in his most recent book), at home, as an island in the middle of an artichoke risotto, an idea inspired by something Roberto Donna does with these savory flans.

I also bought extra artichokes on sale at Whole Foods this week to make a simple salad with braised artichoke and (cooked) cardoons.

Only about 20% of Heinz's plants survived the winter; albeit a small plot of them. He says without the climates of the Mediterranean or California...

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I was thrilled to pieces to pick up my cardoons.  Giant Shrimp, what are you going to do with yours?

i guess i will find out tonight. they are certainly taking up more than their fair share of the bottom of my refrigerator. i am still somewhat concerned over their bitterness. i have read that they are a winter vegetable and should be eaten when they are sweet, not bitter. my cardoons are bitter, which the spring makes them, but they don't sound difficult to prepare, based on a couple of minutes of research on the web this morning. strip them like celery of fiber, boil them in salted water until tender and then saute them in olive oil, and you can start from there. lemon, cream, eggs and parmesan are among the ingredients mentioned with them. they will also turn brown as you prepare them, so you need to plunge them in lemon water if you are taking your time. i have enough cardoons to test a small batch first, before doing anything even halfway ambitious with them. if they taste good, i am going to use them as a main ingredient, so candying sounds out, but you can also pair them up with meat. bone marrow is an option. zora suggesteed a gratin, and i might pursue that. if they are good, i am sure i can toss them with pasta, the easy way out. but cardoons may turn out to be one more reason why it is easier to cook in california.

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cardoons are not the disappointment i might have been expecting, judging from a trial run last night in which i boiled them less than half an hour in salted water and sauteed them in olive oil. they do seem to pick up flavors easily, so next time i am going easier on the salt, but once prepared this way there was none of the bitterness that is pronounced in the batch i picked up at the farmer's market. they do taste like they are members of the artichoke family, but i found them easier to cook. there are maybe half a dozen recipes in the silver spoon, a cookbook, i have found, that you don't need to follow religiously. the book recommends a bagna cauda for them, but i have decided upon baking them in milk and cream with lemon, emmenthal(er?) and parmesan. i still don't feel like i have the whole cardoon story, however. otherwise, i would understand the necessity for boiling the stalks for two hours. mine didn't need it. mine also did not seem ready to turn black, so there was no need to waste a lemon (about 70 cents each at whole foods) on acidulous water.

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Thanks for the report. I am reassured about the taste since mine are still standing upright in water.

If you are interested in learning more about cardoons, do consult Elizabeth Schneider's Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini and read her entry. Most Italian cookbooks written for the American market omit recipes. However, Matt Kramer's Passion for Piedmont is ten times better than the title and features the ingredient given its central importance in that region. There's also Roberto Donna's cookbook, Batali's Molto Italiano, and Chez Panisse Vegetables.

I would NOT recommend a bagna calda with the cardoons we got since they do need to be cooked. Find a good photograph of a sliced cardoon and see the difference between our stringy, pulpy stalks and those suited for eating raw. Schneider quotes Alice Waters in saying that the season for cardoons starts in LATE spring with young stalks cut from plants that have over-wintered. So maybe Heinz's plants will produce something even better later in the month...or June.

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Heinz (Next Step Produce) brought cardoons this week, after I had missed the ones he brought two weeks ago. I say missed, but it was actually that I forgot that he was bringing them for me. Not clear whether these were grown from the Umbrian cardoon seeds that Anna Blume had given him last year, but he did tell me that they were grown from Italian seeds, which unlike the American varietal have very sharp thorns along the edges of the leaves. I think he may have picked them a bit too young, since it is the stem part of the leaf that is used--the leaves themselves are discarded--and the stems were not very well developed, compared to other commercially grown cardoons I have had in years past. I bought two hefty bunches, however, and the total amount of stem, as skinny as each individual was, added up to enough to make a good sized gratin for dinner tonight. I chopped the stems, cooked them in chicken broth until tender but still a bit crunchy, made a veloute´(roux-based white sauce) with a little bit of roasted garlic in it, baked the cardoons and sauce in a casserole, topped with Reggiano for about a half hour. Very delicious with leftovers from last night's blow out dinner.
Congratulations on your mastery of pie making, first! I am holding off a couple of weeks to buy sour cherries from Reid's Papa's (name change) Orchards.

As for the cardoons, I am glad the purchase worked out despite the size and youth of the cardoons. It's great that Heinz is going public with this vegetable--maybe it will catch on one day!

I gave him those seeds in December (a gift from Hathor at eG), so if they were the ones, it was indeed early. I am pretty sure one farmer blessed with Northern Californian weather said it can take two seasons before a plant is ready to harvest, so I wonder. Normally, according to Hathor, they appear in markets in the fall, though Elizabeth Schneider says that availability in colder months is more cultural than biologically determined since cardoons also have a springtime season. At any rate, they really should be allowed to grow to around 4 feet--or twice that height in hospitable climates--with the tough outer stalks discarded along with the TOXIC LEAVES. It was inspired of you to cook them in stock and the gratin sounds delicious.

When Next Step carries cardoons again, DR folk might be pleased to learn their bookshelves have recipes for this primeval ancestor of the artichoke. Alice Waters is credited with their popularity in Northern California, most likely due to the influence of Lulu Peyraud on her cooking. You'll find excellent instructions for preparing cardoons w anchovies in Lulu's Provencal Table where Olney provides instructions for making a blanc (slurry of flour in salted water w lemon juice and a little olive oil) that is supposed to prevent discoloration. Molto Italiano has a recipe for sformati, or individual flans dusted w toasted bread crumbs and pecorino, though I like using cream vs. a bechamel. If the cardoons are really good, it's also traditional to dip them raw in a bagna cauda. Does anyone know what is done with cardoons in Spain?

* * *

While basil may have zipped up its white gown to descend the staircase a week or so ago, I picked up my first full bunch of organic leaves Sunday and turned almost all of it into a pint of pesto. It's hard to believe there will come a day later in the summer when I am sick of this incredible bright green stuff.

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As reported here (Post 1948), more than a year later, Next Step Produce is selling really good cardoons grown from Umbrian seeds.

This just in from the cardoon-enthusiast in Umbria:

I did make some soylent green with the last batch.... the plan was to try and dry the cardoons into a sort of wafer. The plan failed, and I created something that you could carry in a backpack on long trips and get all the necessary fiber that you would need.

* * *

FTR, Zora managed to buy cardoons at Wegman's this fall, so the vegetable may be making a come-back. Cf. November issue of Gourmet where they're a side-dish in an Italianized Thanksgiving.

* * *

The quality this year is good enough for a bagna calda, though it might be better to clean, trim and pull the ribs off of 3-inch lengths of the stalks, cutting the widest pieces in half lengthwise. Boil in aciduated water for 15-30 minutes instead of 40-45, so they're tender but still a little firm, then drain, and plunge them immediately into an ice bath.

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Okay, so is anyone around here buying or cooking cardoons?

Spoke to Heinz this past Sunday about his supplies since the pile of stalks was not dwindling as quickly as they did a few weeks ago.

He let me know he kept track of my own purchases and knew I hadn't picked up any this spring ( :blush: ). However, he also had the impression that there were not a whole lot of repeat customers.

True? :lol:

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Okay, so is anyone around here buying or cooking cardoons?

Spoke to Heinz this past Sunday about his supplies since the pile of stalks was not dwindling as quickly as they did a few weeks ago.

He let me know he kept track of my own purchases and knew I hadn't picked up any this spring ( :blush: ). However, he also had the impression that there were not a whole lot of repeat customers.

True? :lol:

I would buy cardoons more often, but my family is lukewarm about them. Once a season is about all I can get away with.

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I'm afraid that my first try at cardoons was more of "cardon'ts". I prepped them and attempted to make a soup with a bunch of large cardoons from Next Step...except after simmering them in aciduated salted water for 30 minutes, they were unbearably bitter. Perhaps I should have soaked them for a while, but me thinks it would not have helped much.

Oh well...my craving for soup was sated after making a quickie broccoli cheese soup from frozen broccoli of unknown providence.

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I tried some cardoons from Next Step too. They took a long time to soften up when boiling them (prob 45 min, with salt and lemon), but there was no problem with bitterness when they were done. They had a pleasant artichoke-ish taste to them, which was then completely lost when I used a Mario Batali recipe that called for sauteeing them with onions, honey, chili flakes and balsamic vinegar. Edible, but the cardoons might as well have been boiled celery. I'll definitely give them another go, though-- this time pairing them with milder ingredients. giant shrimp's recommendation of lemon, cream, eggs and parmesan as partners sounds like the right track.

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The cardoons currently for sale are grown from seeds sent all the way from Italy to me by a former chef of a small restaurant in a small town in Umbria so I could give them to Heinz since his American plants were sort of meh. They apparently took to US soil like ducks to plum sauce, the major problems being two: 1) painful to pick since they seem to be closer kin to thistles and 2) limited appeal (see comments above).

You can find a flyer [copyrighted to my real-life counterpart] about this ancestor to the modern-day artichoke in the recipe file at the Dupont Circle market. Here's an excerpt you might find useful:

Master Recipe for Preparing Cardoons

Fill a large bowl with water and add 2 T (tablespoons) of vinegar or lemon juice. Wash and trim the stalks, cutting them into pieces 2 to 3 inches long. Using a small paring knife, pull the celery-like strings off each stubby chunk as you go, dumping it into the acidulated water to prevent discoloration.

Meanwhile, fill a stockpot with water. In Southern France, cooks make a paste with 2 T each of flour and water and then whisk the slurry into the pot. Add juice of 1 lemon, 2 T salt and 1 T olive oil; this is called a blanc since it preserves the pallor of the cardoons. Feel free to skip the flour and oil, but the salt and lemon juice are crucial.

When the water boils, throw in cardoons. Let the water return to a boil, then turn down the heat to retain a slow, steady simmer. Do not cover. After 20 minutes, pierce one piece with a knife. It should be tender, but not mushy, and taste faintly of artichoke. The cardoons should be ready in approximately 30 - 45 minutes. Drain.

Serving Suggestions and Recipes

Simple? Season with salt and pepper, then dress with lemon juice and olive oil. Elaborate from there, depending on mood. At Chez Panisse, Alice Waters serves a salad of cardoons and artichoke hearts. Shave raw fennel and Parmesan or add boiled new potatoes, chickpeas, red onion and mint to serve with crusty bread at a vegan feast.

Braise fennel slowly in olive oil with garlic, tossing in your boiled cardoons at the end to turn just a little golden. Consider blanketing the mixture under grated cheese or bread crumbs dotted with butter or olive oil and run it under a broiler to brown. Cardoon gratins are, indeed, classic. In Provence, the shallow casseroles usually contain béchamel or thickened stock and a paste of salt-cured anchovies which lend a depth of flavor without a fishy taste. Variations combine cream and stock instead of a sauce. Add leeks, potatoes, celeriac or the florets of cauliflower or Romanesco if you'd like.

In Northern Italy, the Piemontese bake sformati—savory flans with puréed cardoons—or plunge raw spears of cardoons into a warm, garlicky anchovy dip for bagna cauda. Since they bury their stalks (gobbi) underground to tenderize as they grow, you might consider boiling yours for 20 minutes. Dip the boiled cardoons into batter and deep-fry them (Gourmet, November 2007) or follow Mario Batali's advice and sauté slivers with garlic for spaghetti with cheese. Form tiny little meatballs for soup with cardoons and onions. Thickening the broth with eggs is traditional in Abruzzo at Christmas, but you could purée cardoons, instead, and stir them in with lemon juice.

For cardos con almendras y jamón, reserve some of the cooking water from cardoons. Sauté cured Spanish ham and raw, peeled almonds in olive oil and braise them with the cardoons and reserved water for a few minutes to merge flavors. Then there are stews and stuffed cardoons from North Africa and the Middle East! Explore cookbooks and the internet for other alternatives, including a Persian dip with sour cream, onion and tomato.

Cardoon Gratin (Serves 4)

1 bunch cardoons, prepared as in master recipe 1 ½ cups whole milk

1 T butter, plus additional for topping 2 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled (optional)

1 T all-purpose flour ¼ t [teaspoon] salt

½ cup Parmesan or Gruyere, grated at home

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Make a white sauce by heating the butter in a small saucepan over low heat, then add the flour, stirring with a wooden spoon to form a paste (roux). Cook for 1 minute without browning. Off the heat, pour in the milk slowly, whisking to incorporate the paste. Return the pot to the heat and continue to whisk until the milk comes to a boil. Add the garlic if so inclined and turn the heat to low, stirring until you have a sauce the consistency of heavy cream or runny yogurt. This should take around 15 minutes. Remove garlic and add salt to taste. Drain cardoons and place them in gratin dish. Pour sauce over them and cover with grated cheese and dot with butter. Bake for 15-20 minutes until heated through, bubbling, and top is golden.

Lamb Tagine with Cardoons, Preserved Lemons & Olives (Serves 4)

Adapted from Paula Wolfert, Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco

1 bunch cardoons, cleaned as in master recipe, in acidulated water Pinch of saffron (optional)

1 ½ lbs. lamb shoulder, cut into 1 ½ inch cubes ½ t turmeric

2 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled ¾ t ground ginger (not fresh gingerroot)

½ cup minced parsley 3 T canola or other neutral cooking oil

1 t salt (or to taste) 1 medium onion grated or finely chopped

½ t freshly ground black pepper (or to taste) ½ cup pitted Kalamata olives

1 preserved lemon, cut into eighths ½ cup lemon juice (or more, to taste)

Toss lamb with garlic, parsley, seasonings, spices and oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy pot with lid. Cover with ¾ cup water and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer, low, for 1 hour, checking periodically to turn meat or add water to keep from scorching. Add cardoons and water to cover. Continue cooking with lid on for another 40 minutes. When meat is so tender it shreds, and cardoons are no longer firm, add preserved lemon and olives. Continue cooking 10 minutes. Stir in lemon juice. Remove meat and cardoons to serving dish and reduce sauce, only if necessary, by cooking over medium high heat until gravy-like. Pour over tagine. Serve with couscous and a radish salad.

That tagine is the best thing I made with cardoons, meaning really delicious (as opposed to the best thing I ever made with Miracle Whip).

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Admittedly, when I think of cardoons I think "Anna Blume".

So when I read this post at the Make a Roux blog about cardoons served at Thanksgiving in South Louisiana, I thought "Anna Blume might want to know this."

I hope it adds to the general knowledge of cardoons. It added something to my life, I must say. I liked to know about this.

If I may digress for a moment from Farms and Farmer's Markets and chadrons I'd also like to send this to Anna Blume, for it was her thought-provoking commentary on the television show 'Wife Swap' among other thought-provoking commentary which often ended in deletions for us all, which brought the idea to mind. This is part one of the four parts so far posted at foodvox. Mother-swap. Some food in it. (No cardoons, but I could add some.)

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Bumping this up for porcupine's sake and attention she drew to a newsletter she receives. FYI Picklers make mostarda and the French candy them.

Cardoons have to be tied up while they are growing so that they blanch, similar to white asparagus (which has to be covered with earth). If the farmer isn't doing that, then that could well be why they are bitter.

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