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.

Growing  CardoonsP1020322

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 )

The Quince, Sea Beans, and a Black Oregon Truffle

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Since it’s almost Christmas, it’s time for me to post what’s been waiting in my hopper. (These past few weeks have been a blur.)

Between cooking for folks here at home, ghostblogging about food for someone else, and cooking food for clients I’ve been working for as a caregiver, I’m feeling fairly proficient in the kitchen nowadays.

Our Thanksgiving Quinces as Still-life.

Last month we purchased some quince from a local co-op. We’d gone there to look for raw goat milk for making cheese and whey. When we got home, John set about making quince paste. It was a fun process and quite different than I’d imagined. Both culinary projects went well and they tasted so good. The quince paste was served with some wild boar charcuterie at Thanksgiving alongside some Spanish cheeses.

Oh! That seems like ages ago to me right now.

There are so many vegetables to give thanks for this time of year.
Sausage, Potato and Savoy Cabbage Soup is a comfort food of mine.

We’ve pickled a few beets during the last few weeks and just last week I prepared my favorite cabbage soup when we had a large family of friends over for dinner. My best friend from college and his wife have adopted a baby and I get to be an auntie again. With his whole family in town, of course I had to invite them all over for dinner too.

Know your Italian chicories: Radicchio and Treviso.

Last month there was a tasty salad I made with some radicchio too. It was raw radicchio—not grilled—so I was weary at first. Somehow serving it with crispy red onions and a citrus vinaigrette did something magical to its bitterness. It was another great success I hope to serve again soon.

Wild foraged Sea Beans.

I’d always wanted to try these so last month I purchased some samphire at the Portland Farmers Market. I was pleasantly surprised by how salty they were when I popped one into my mouth.

Sea Beans with Rice Vinegar and Furikake.

Days later I put this little salad together at home. I recommend sea beans highly if you’re into salt. They are very crunchy too. Somewhere in my office I have seeds for them. I am really curious now to see how they’ll taste when grown in my home garden.

Copper Beech in front of the Millar Library at PSU.

While at PSU attending the Portland Farmer’s Market, I enjoyed looking around. The market takes place in the park blocks and there are so many beautiful trees to look at while people watching and shopping.

For many years it was a painful place for me to visit because my health had been very poor while I was a student there. Now that I’m much better, I can reflect on those years. We all need to process our past and move forward stronger and more aware. Being surrounded by the market makes that process kind of fun for me now. My love of food and my knowledge of plants has given me some much needed strength over the past few years.

After one of the trips to the market I went thrift store shopping. I was looking for a new ikebana vase when I found this old 1980s mauve piece. When I saw the sticker it made me smile. This shop is no longer in business and had belonged to my niece’s grandmother on her mother’s side of the family. While driving home, the poor thing broke, but my niece was happy I’d at least thought to pick it up for her.
Wild Foraged Chanterelles.

I made these into an omelette. What do you like to make with yours? Just curious.

Oregon Black Truffle.

We bought truffles too and John made a delicious risotto for us. (Risotto is common in the region of Italy he hails from and he was raised eating it.) The Oregon truffle was a fun twist on our usual recipe for both of us. Yes, the domestic truffle is not as tasty as European truffles, but they are more affordable. I’ll take that tradeoff. Truffles just make me happy too. I smell them and they make me smile. When they are near me, I am content.

Seriously. I love truffles.

Lastly, for Thanksgiving we also had some flowers. It began with this simple arrangement but then I expanded from there. This year I also made sure to buy American-grown flowers. I’m dedicated to buying them more often now and I can assure you that you’ll be hearing more and more about this topic during the coming months.

Goodbye for now.
PS: Hope your holidays are going well!

Goat Cheese and Lemon Cheesecake with Pistachio Crust (with recipe!)

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This is a late follow up to a post I wrote last December to celebrate the Blogoversary of the blog Amateur Bot-ann-ist. It’s still difficult for me to believe that I’ve been doing this now for 5 years, but I have been, and I still enjoy it very much.
I might even be enjoying it even more now actually!

Ok, now that your eyes have feasted, here’s the recipe. (Sorry I didn’t include the prickly pear coulis portion, but to be honest, that’s because I kind of made it up as I went along! Sometimes that’s just how it is in the kitchen.)

Enjoy!

Goat Cheese and Lemon Cheesecake with Pistachio Crust

The Crust:
1 cup shelled and unsalted pistachios
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus additional for greasing pan

The Filling
16 ounces plain chèvre cheese
1 cup goat milk yogurt (plain or vanilla)
3 eggs
1/4 cup goat milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons honey or 5 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Grated rind of one lemon

Makes about 12 servings.

To make the crust place pistachios, orange zest, salt, cinnamon and sugar in a food processor and pulse until nuts are ground. Put in a bowl and stir in the melted butter. Press mixture firmly into a spring-form pan, making sure to push up onto the side of the pan an inch or so. Bake for about 7 minutes at 350 degrees F. Remove and let cool before adding filling.

Combine and beat eggs, chèvre and yogurt until smooth. Add remaining ingredients until well blended. Pour into the cooled crust and bake at 450 degrees F for 10 minutes, then turn down to 350 degrees F and bake for 35-45 more minutes. Let cool.

You can top with berries, or as in this case, drizzle it with a fresh fruit coulis.

(I guess I should have added that this is a gluten-free recipe and that the goat milk extravaganza is for those of us who are sensitive to cow’s milk. Discovering recently that I could consume dairy products made of goat’s milk has been like entering into a kind of “heaven” on Earth.)