Venezia on Foot (from April 2016)

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(While going through my unfinished blog posts recently I discovered this one from my last trip to Italy back in 2016.)

Wish I could find a little pot holder just like this one.

It has been over two years since I was on this trip, yet seeing these photos quickly brings it all back to me. The devil really is in the details. The colors, curves, light, shadows, and the many kind people I met while there for two weeks warm my heart. I didn’t want to love Venezia, but I carry it with me now. It seems cliche to this cynical American, and yet, the place inspires! It’s a magical place and I wish I could have known it long ago…img_1345This was our front door for two weeks. We had the large apartment located on the top floor of this building.

Many times I walked past this shop nearby and admired these ceramics. I still think about these ceramics. While there I bought this book to practice my reading comprehension. I’m always amazed at how little I use my Italian and yet am still able to do ok with it when I need to read it. These are likely window boxes filled with Sedum palmeri. It felt like the entire place had all shared the same plant. While visiting there the first time, I’d admired this color on another building. It’s called Venetian salmon and seems fitting. After the second trip I loved the color even more. (This is Hotel Iris.)During this second trip I also learned quite a bit more about the gardens of Venice and the history of many of the plants there. (It helps to be included in a group of Italian Instagramers who know a great deal about Italian Garden History.)With so many tourists, it’s nice to hide the garbage cans with art. Many shops sell items for Carnevale. This shop caught my eye with its modern masks. On this trip I walked to see some art, but not as much as I’d hoped to see. I rested and read quite a bit. Traveling is still hard on me and this wasn’t really long after I’d had my back surgery and I was in the midst of terrible nerve pain from my old injuries. Being there made the pain better. It was even better when I saw plants. It’s a place where you always want to peek over walls. I spent a few days like this but was relieved when the tour took place on the last day there. Being invited into homes and gardens is always a wonderful treat. It seems possible to me that I loved this walk so much I could do it all over again in my mind. Then there was a cookbook store. Oh how I wish I’d spent more time lingering there!The best was saved for last. I stopped several times on my way back to the apartment to pick up this incredible sarde in saor from a vendor who served theirs on polenta. The two creamed together like this still makes my mouth water.

Cardoons: An Edible Ornamental

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Joe, the Cardoon, and I
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Nearly 10 years ago I grew two lovely cardoon (Cynara cardunculusplants here at the house. An easy plant to grow from seed, I jokingly referred to it them as ‘Cardoonicus Maximus’ due to their imposing stature. Though clearly not at all the proper technical name for the plant, it stuck. If ever you’ve seen one of these in person, you’ll know they’re very dramatic. Many strangers would approach me when I was out front gardening to ask about them. I was proud.

But few ever asked why I’d grown them…

You see, back then, one of Grandpa Sam’s cousins was still alive. Like my grandfather, Joe had been the son of Sicilian immigrants. While visiting him one day at a nearby nursing home, we started to talk about the Sicilian dishes my family used to make and the unusual vegetables they’d grow for special dishes. Joe told me that only the old guys grew these plants and that he’d always thought they tasted good.

He added that he’d noticed gardens in SE Portland where cardoons had been planted, but that the cardoons were clearly not being grown to be eaten. He thought that was really funny. I’d noticed them too, and thought the plants were pretty, so I asked him if he’d like for me to grow some for him. We were both really excited about the arrangement so it was off to the garden I went!

Sadly, Joe did not live long enough to share those first cardoons with our family, so now whenever I see them, it makes me kind of sad. Eating those first few batches was kind of emotional without him.

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Growing cardoons is quite easy since they are technically thistles.

Need I say more? 

They like sun, can tolerate poor soil, and don’t need a lot of water. Their spines hurt though and in order to prepare them to be eaten their centers need to be blanched. This means tying the plants up and heaping soil around their base.

In my climate (zone 8) they are an edible perennial. (We ate ours for three seasons then tore out the plants due to their size.)

I’ve found that they are very easily grown from seed. If you can grow artichokes, you can grow cardoons.

Cooking the CardoonsIMG_8146

Last winter—while giving a talk about seed starting at Drake’s Garden Store—the co-host of a local garden-themed TV show was in the audience and asked me if I’d cook them on the show. (I was discussing growing them from seed—go figure.)

“Of course,” I blurted out!

So here we are today. Since I didn’t grow the plants this season I had to find a local purveyor and was lucky enough to find them courtesy of Viridian Farms. We’re blessed with great local growers and I can’t wait to cook up more of their produce. They have an amazing selection of hard-to-find items.

(If you’re interested in seeing me in the Garden Time episode you can find it by clicking here. I’m in the last segment with my friend William and I have to say the experience was wonderful.)

As for the recipe I used, here it is!

Cardoons in Tomato Sauce

(adapted from Angelo Pellegrini’s recipe in his book The Unprejudiced Palate)

Ingredients

• 1 head of fresh cardoons (remove the thickest outer stalks)

• 3-4 slices of bacon, 1/4 lb. lean salt pork, cut into pieces

• 1 large clove of garlic, minced

• 1 medium onion, minced

• 3 sprigs of parsley, chopped

• 1 sprig of marjoram, minced

• 1 cup of tomatoes, canned and diced

• 1 cup of stock, chicken or vegetable

• 1/2 cup Parmigiano cheese

• 1/2 cup bread crumbs

• salt and pepper to taste

• 2 lemons or 1/2 cup lemon juice

Remove the hardened outer stalks of the cardoon and use the inner portion of the plant for this recipe. Prepare the cardoon stalks one at a time with a knife and/or peeler and when finished, place each piece into a bowl of water acidified with lemon juice.

To prepare the cardoons, remove the tough outer ribs on each stalk with a knife or peeler. Then scape the inner portion to remove some of the fuzziness. (This can be done with a small knife.) Slice each stalk into 2- to 3-inch pieces and toss into the large bowl of lemon water. After the cardoons are all prepared, toss them into a large pot of boiling water with a pinch of salt to scald them. Boil for several minutes and then drain and set aside.

In a large pan cook the bacon or pork pieces for several minutes until browned. Add the onion and garlic and continue to cook for 5 minutes over medium heat. Toss in the parsley and marjoram and cook slowly until the onions are done. Add the tomatoes and stock and simmer for 15 minutes. At this point add the drained cardoons and simmer for approximately 20-30 minutes longer making sure to turn the cardoons often. They will be ready when the cardoons are tender.

A few minutes before serving, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and cheese and stir.

If you’d like to make the dish more fancy drizzle lightly with truffle oil. The dish also goes very well with a roasted chicken or other simple main dish.

(If you’d like to learn more about pioneering food and garden writer Angelo Pellegrini find out more by clicking here.)

Footnote: Impressing your Friends with the Cardoon

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Walking through the farmer’s market with one of these slung over your shoulder will make other shoppers jealous. I can’t tell you how many men pointed and wanted whatever it was my husband had because it was big and looked cool.

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Leaving a ‘Great White’ Cardoon on your front porch will impress your dinner guests and gardening buddies.

(To learn more about the pioneering food and edible gardening author Angelo M. Pellegrini, click this link for more information: Pellegrini Foundation )