Originally, I grew this plant for it's magnificent bloom, reminiscent of the artichoke, with electric purple, needle like flowers that smell much like honey. The pollinators adore them. They seem to get fairly drunk stumbling around in the pollen heavy blooms.
Last spring I experimented with eating the stalk, like so many early Greeks and Romans. Cardoons were kept by colonial Americans as well, served often in the early spring or late fall as a culinary delight. They are currently enjoying a bit of a modern comeback. Mario Batali describes cardoons as having a "sexy flavor." I agree.
I just learned that the cardoon is a vegetarian source for a cheese making enzyme, responsible for particular varieties of earthy, artisan cheeses.
I am very fond of the entire plant. I like it's style. It is a wonderful showpiece for the garden and a welcome addition to the table.
I enjoy the stalks boiled and tossed, with nothing more than lemon, garlic, butter, sea salt and pepper.
*6 tender cardoon stalks
*wedge of fresh lemon
*1 Tbsp butter
*1 garlic clove, pressed
*sea salt and pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Trim away leaf material from stalk. Rinse. If stalks are mature, scrape away the fibrous stings using a sharp knife. Cut into pieces. Boil until tender, about 15 minutes. Toss in a medium bowl with remaining ingredients. Enjoy!
I have read that you can add a bit of milk to the boiling water to help the cardoons
retain color, but I have never had any trouble with color fading.
*Cardoons are a wonderful source of vitamin C, B6, calcium, folate, magnesium, potassium, manganese, copper, phosphorus, and of course, dietary fiber.