Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) is a popular edible thistle that resembles the globe artichoke and is also known as Cardoni or Cardi. I first came across this plant, which grow in bunches like celery, on a bio-dynamic farm near the Mexican border. The fleshy, silver-grey stalks have a soft suede feel, with a bittersweet and complex taste that hints at oyster plant, artichoke and celery. This lovely food figures in the Mediterranean cuisines of France, Italy and Spain. A succulent suggestion is to cook cardoon with orange juice, pepper, butter, Parmesan cheese and serve with rice.
Look for this vegetable in Italian markets from winter to early spring. Don’t let the discolored tops, which are severed during harvest, put you off, and choose the smallish, firm stalks with little wilting below the tops. Store with a damp towel in a plastic bag until preparation time, and serve raw in strips, or marinated in olive oil, lemon and red wine vinegar. Cardoon adds a very nice elusive twist to soups and stews. A quick precooking of the cardoon removes much of the bitter taste, and enhances the deeper flavors. Low in calories, cardoon has calcium and iron, and is an excellent source of potassium.