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First of all what are they? Basically they are a member of the artichoke family. In Calasparra it is also common to cut and cook the leaves of the artichoke plant in the same manner as you cook cardoon (cardo). However, the cardoon plant has small artichoke type fruits, more like a thistle, which are inedible.
Why eat them. Firstly, because they are good for you.
Modern research has shown that the cynarin which is the bitter compound in the plant, can improve liver and gall bladder functions, and stimulates the secretion of digestive juices, as well as helping to lower the levels of blood cholesterol.
Cardoons contain the B-complex vitamins, B1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 9 along with vitamin C, dietary fibre and are rich in potassium (so good for the muscles and nerves and their functioning, as well as for erectile dysfunctions), copper and manganese as well as other minerals which include calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium and zinc. They also contain the phytonutrient, luteolin, silymarin, caffeic acid, among others which have antioxidant properties and serve to protect DNA from damage by scavenging free-radicals which can cause cancer.
So worth the trouble then!!
Here are a couple of simple recipès to get you started. However, cardoons make an excllent addition to stews, cassertoles or vegetable soups.

5-6 cardoon stalks, trimmed and cut as described above
1 pint chicken stock
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely sliced
4 ozs fresh mushrooms, sliced
handful coriander or parsley leaves, shredded
30 gr pine nuts
1 glass white wine
olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated Parmesan cheese to serve

Prepare cardoon as explained below.
Boil the cardoons 20 minutes in the homemade chicken stock. Drain and reserve the liquid
Heat the olive oil in a pan and fry the onions and garlic until the onion is tender.
Add the mushrooms and pine nuts, stirring to make sure they are coated with the oil.
Add the white wine and bring to the boil. Add the black pepper and allow the mixture to simmer for 15 minutes, then add the strained cardoons, stir well and add the reserved liquid.
Now add the coriander or parsley leaves, and simmer uncovered for a further 10-15 minutes.
Remove from the heat and allow to stand for about 30 minutes before serving.
Serve with Parmesan cheese.

5 pounds cardoons
10 cups water
1/2 cup flour
2 lemons
2 cups basic besciamela sauce
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Prepare cardoons as explained below.

Fill a stock or pasta pot two-thirds or three-quarters full (about 10 cups) with water and add flour and lemons, which have been halved and squeezed into water. Cut each cartoon into 3 pieces approximately 5 to 6 inches in length and continue until all cartoon is cleaned, trimmed and cut. Place on medium high heat and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium and cook just below boiling for 1 hour. Remove, drain, rinse and allow to cool. Lay cartoon pieces in oven-proof casserole and cover with 2 cups besciamela sauce. Sprinkle with grated cheese and bread crumbs and bake for 30 to 35 minutes until dark golden brown and very bubbly. Serve immediately as an appetizer or light lunch with grilled bread and crushed red pepper flakes

NEXOnr Calasparra