A close relative of the artichoke, cardoon is a European delicacy. Grown specifically for the tender stems that are blanched to eradicate some of the bitterness, the leaves are bound together and the stems wrapped in hessian or covered in soil up to 40 cm high for 4-6 weeks before harvesting. Some say that if you harvest earlier in the season, it is not necessary to go to the extra trouble as the flavour is still mild and sweet, without the heavy bitterness.
To prepare, strip the leaves off and peel off the spines and thick ribs. Blanch in boiling water with lemon juice and salt for 20-30 min until tender yet still firm. Cut into pieces and use them in your favourite recipe. A popular go-to is lightly fried in garlic butter with a heavy sprinkling of parmesan.
Although a hardy perennial, it is best grown as an annual, as the second season’s stems are said to be far more bitter, and blanching is a definite requirement for enjoyment. That said, we all have our own unique flavour spectrum!