I had never heard of cardoon before interning at the Farm, but this week I learned how to “blanch” cardoon. Cardoon is a thistle-type plant and is related to artichokes. It is a Mediterranean plant/vegetable that is covered with tiny, near-invisible spines. It turns out that it is also rich in many vitamins and minerals (as most vegetables are), specifically folate, magnesium, and manganese!
It also turns out that they are very high maintenance vegetables to grow. The plants require a lot of space and lots of care. They grow in a large bundle of stalks, similar in appearance to celery stalks (except for the invisible thorns mentioned above). About 3 to 4 weeks before harvesting when the bushel is about 3 feet tall, it is important to blanch the cardoon. This will make the edible stalks more tender and less bitter, improving the flavor.
Blanching the cardoon is a two-man job because the plants are pretty big and spiny. We made sure to wear gloves while working also. We began by gathering the stalks of the cardoon plant and holding them together into one large bundle. While one person held the plant, the other cut a long piece of dark, opaque cloth and wrapped it around the edible base of the plant 1-2 times. Once the cloth was wrapped, with the other person still holding the bundle together, tie 2-3 pieces of string around cloth to hold it in place.
Once you have harvested the stalks, peel off the leaves and thorns using a vegetable peeler. After cleaning off the spines, you can cut the stalks into 3 inch pieces and soak them with vinegar for 30 minutes to get rid of some of the bitterness. Now your cardoons are ready for cooking!