Kiss the Cardoon

My three dollar cardoon from Portland Nursery has been stopping traffic and walkers.  I live eight houses down from a grade school on a modest two lane thoroughfare so I get a little more traffic than most and with that more questions, comments, and suggestions.  And right now I don’t even need to look up when they point and ask, “What is that?!?” 

Because I know that they are asking about the cardoon that is shooting up 7 foot flower stalks.  And the name only baffles them.  So, I have condensed my answer down to, “it’s a cardoon, which is a thistle and a relative of the artichoke.  The leaf stems are edible but not the leaf and it’s a bit of a hassle to fix.  I use it in soup."

I found my Gobbo Di Nizzia cardoon grown by Log House Plants at Portland Nursery in the herb section last year and it was an impulse buy.  I saw those silver leaves and had to have it.  My Pirate simply rolled his eyes and handed over his debit card. He’s nice that way.  I plugged it into my Victory Garden bed whose theme for the summer was Alien Nation due to all the strange edible foliage that I was collecting.  It was a nice fit.  The cardoon wintered over and this spring it took off.  

Ever since the cardoon started shooting up the flower spikes, I’ve been waiting to cut several stems for a bouquet.  And I finally broke down and cut them before they fully bloomed.  Here’s how it turned out.

And The Assistant helped out with taking the pictures and I even caught her taste testing the flowers.  I took pictures of the bouquet then I gave it to the crew at Lifestyles Physical Therapy in Portland who are amazing healers that help keep me doing what I love, write, and cook.

Earlier this summer I went to Nostrana’s in Portland for lunch and I ordered their cardoon and potato soup. I savored the simple chicken stock based soup studded with cardoon and potato pieces, while I listened to the servers and cook debate whether a customer had ordered too much food and if they should go tell her.  I'm glad that I only ordered the soup!  And I decided that I was going to learn how to cook up my own cardoon soup. Here's what I came up with as a basic recipe that I'll tweak depending on what's growing in my garden. 

Cardoon and Potato Soup

5 Cardoon leaf stems—prepared and peeled
10 Baby potatoes—cut into halves or quarters
8 cups Chicken broth—preferably homemade
Thyme—1 fresh stem
Salt, pepper, cayenne
Lemon juice—4 drops

Clean and peel cardoon stems.  Remove the leaf portion with a knife and peel the stems with a vegetable peeler to remove the thick exterior fibers.  Cut into three inch pieces and add to simmering chicken stock until tender, 35 minutes to an hour.  Mine took an hour.
Then add potatoes, thyme, salt, pepper and cayenne.  Simmer until potatoes are tender approximately 20 to 30 minutes.  Add four drops of lemon juice.  Serve.