bg header


An extremely unique vegetable

As far as veggies go, cardoons are extremely similar to artichokes; in fact, they are closely related to them. They do, however, have distinct variations in colour and form, as well as a strong propensity to develop in natural settings. As a result, cardoons don’t require a lot of care during cultivation. However, in a more unusual than common situation for plants, they benefit from frosts. Actually, people like “winter” cardoons because of their softer consistency and richer flavour.

Other than that, they resemble artichokes quite a bit. This also pertains to the cleaning stage, which is essentially the same. For example, to get rid of any bitter aromas, soak them in a mixture of water and lemon before cooking. When it comes to nutritional value, cardoons are excellent choices. They offer a remarkable amount of potassium at the expense of a relatively low caloric intake of only 17 kcal. They also contain a lot of fibre, which is beneficial for controlling intestinal transit. Additionally, adequate calcium and vitamin B2 concentrations are seen.

Cardoon varieties

As a natural species that grows abundantly in Italy, there are many different types that are consumed here. These are the ones that are most typical:

  • Hunchback of Nizza Monferrato: It is a variety that is consumed raw. It is also one of the few that is cultivated intentionally. It is very tender and is characterised by a very light shade.
  • Helpless Giant: It is a very fleshy variety, sometimes leathery, and very bitter.
  • White ivory: Typical of the Asti area, it has no thorns and is rather meaty.
  • The ribs are very juicy and tender. It is completely free of thorns.
  • Chieri cardoons: This variety is characterised by its few thorns, its slightly sweet taste, and its versatility.

How to eat cardoons

The cooking techniques for cardoons are more akin to celery than they are to artichokes, despite their similarities. In reality, the ribs—which resemble celery—remain after the washing process. In any case, if we exclude some particular varieties, the cardoon must always be cooked.

Cardoons are used in many dishes; when reduced to a silky cream or puree, it looks very presentable. This makes it a wonderful winter dish. The same goes for soups and stews, which obviously involve the use of many other ingredients. Finally, they can also act as a side dish for second courses or as the main condiment for first courses, perhaps based on pasta.

What are the benefits of cardoons?

Cardoons are beneficial. I have already introduced its nutritional properties, but I think it is useful to talk more in depth about its impact on the body.

For starters, it acts as a purifier, particularly for the liver and kidneys. This is mainly due to the abundance of water, which remains intact even after cooking. Certain chemicals, especially those that are uncommon in plant-based diets, also have an effect in this way. This alludes to silymarin, which aids the liver in its processes related to protein synthesis.
Cardoons also help with digestion; in fact, they are rich in fibre. Fibres support intestinal peristalsis and also generate a sense of satiety. It is no coincidence, therefore, that cardoons are integrated into low-calorie diets, even in light of a very low caloric intake.

How to cook cardoons?

In addition, cardoons are incredibly adaptable and work well with a variety of cooking techniques. They obviously need to be well cleaned first, especially because some of their parts are inedible or emit bad odours. The outer leaves are removed in the first stage, and then the thorns, which are typically located on the sides of the ribs, are extracted. This will give you something akin to a bar, which must be cut into at least a couple of pieces and washed under tap water.

Boiled cardoons are a common ingredient in cooking. Though it varies depending on how ripe the vegetable is and its fibre content, cooking should take about 30 minutes.

Another option is to steam the cardoons. Unless specific tools are employed, cooking time in this instance is a little bit longer. Despite this, the outcome is superb: both the flavour and the significant nutritional qualities are fully retained.

At this point, a question arises spontaneously: how to make cardoons less bitter? A very effective trick consists of soaking the well-cleaned cardoons in acidulated water (a little salt and lemon is enough), then boiling them briefly (just about ten minutes) in a solution of water and milk.

When are they eaten? Seasons and cultivation

Selecting goods that are in season is the key to truly appreciating vegetables. This, of course, is not an anomaly. These are winter and fall vegetables, and the “cardoon season” runs from October to February.

Many might be tempted to cultivate cardoons on their own. Which brings us to our question: are they hard to grow? Actually, not more than other vegetables. The best time to sow is towards the end of spring, a few centimetres below the surface. The posts, or “holes,” must be placed one metre away from each other and can accommodate 3–4 seeds each.

The soil must be well fertilised and properly nourished. Manure pellets, earthworm humus, and prepackaged compost are good options in this case.

There needs to be a lot of watering, constant hoeing, and weeding. Aphids and snails, in particular, are among the weed species that negatively impact cardoons. The harvest begins in late autumn but should only take place when the chards are white.

parmigiana di cardi

Cardoons with Parmesan, an easy and tasty dish from Umbria

What to know about cardoons The most unique component of this Parmigiana are the cardoons, so it's...