|Plants in bloom, Costa Vicentina National Park, Portugal|
The cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), also called the artichoke thistle, cardone, cardoni, carduni or cardi, is a thistle-like plant in the family Asteraceae. It is a naturally occurring species that is sometimes considered to include the globe artichoke, and has many cultivated forms. It is native to the western and central Mediterranean region, where it was domesticated in ancient times.
The wild cardoon is a stout herbaceous perennial plant growing 0.8 to 1.5 m (31 to 59 in) tall, with deeply lobed and heavily spined green to grey-green tomentose leaves up to 50 cm (20 in) long, with yellow spines up to 3.5 cm long. The flowers are violet-purple, produced in a large, globose, massively spined capitulum up to 6 cm (2 in) in diameter.
It is adapted to dry climates, occurring wild from Morocco and Portugal east to Libya and Greece and north to France and Croatia; it may also be native on Cyprus, the Canary Islands and Madeira. In France, it only occurs wild in the Mediterranean south (Gard, Hérault, Aude, Pyrénées-Orientales, Corsica). It has become an invasive weed in the pampas of Argentina, and is also considered a weed in Australia and California.
The two main cultivar groups are the cardoon (Cynara cardunculus Cardoon Group, syn. C. cardunculus var. altilis DC), selected for edible leaf stems, and the artichoke (Cynara cardunculus Scolymus Group, sometimes distinguished as Cynara scolymus or C. cardunculus var. scolymus (L.) Fiori), selected for larger edible flower buds. They differ from the wild plant in being larger (up to 2 m tall), much less spiny, and with thicker leaf stems and larger flowers, all characteristics selected by humans for greater crop yield and easier harvest and processing. Wild and cultivated cardoons and artichokes are very similar genetically, and are fully interfertile, but only have very limited ability to form hybrids with other species in the genus Cynara.
The earliest description of the cardoon may come from the fourth-century BC Greek writer Theophrastus, under the name κάκτος (Latin: cactus), although the exact identity of this plant is uncertain. The cardoon was popular in Greek, Roman, and Persian cuisine, and remained popular in medieval and early modern Europe. It also became common in the vegetable gardens of colonial America. They fell from fashion only in the late 19th century. In Europe, cardoon is still cultivated in France (Provence, Savoie, Lyonnais), Spain, and Italy. In the Geneva region, where Huguenot refugees introduced it about 1685, the local cultivar 'Argenté de Genève' ('Cardy') is considered a culinary specialty. "Before cardoons are sent to table, the stalks or ribs are blanched tying them together and wrapping them round with straw, which is also tied up with cord, and left so for about three weeks". Cardoons also are common vegetables in northern Africa, often used in Algerian or Tunisian couscous.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||71 kJ (17 kcal)|
|Dietary fiber||1.6 g|
|Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Cardoon stalks can be covered with small, nearly invisible spines that can cause substantial pain if they become lodged in the skin. Several spineless cultivars have been developed to overcome this.
Cardoon requires a long, cool growing season (about five months), but it is frost-sensitive. It also typically requires substantial growing space per plant, so is not much grown except where it is regionally popular.
While the flower buds can be eaten much as small (and spiny) artichokes, more often the stems are eaten after being braised in cooking liquid. The flower buds of wild cardoons are still widely collected and used in southern Italy and Sicily. Cardoon is also part of Lyonnaise cuisine (cardoon au gratin).
Cardoon leaf stalks, which look like large celery stalks, can be served steamed or braised, and have an artichoke-like flavour. They are harvested in winter and spring, being best just before the plant flowers. In the Abruzzi region of Italy, Christmas lunch is traditionally started with a soup of cardoon cooked in chicken broth with little meatballs (lamb or, more rarely, beef), sometimes with the further addition of egg (which scrambles in the hot soup – called stracciatella) or fried chopped liver and heart. Cardoons are also an ingredient in one of the national dishes of Spain, the cocido madrileño, a slow-cooking, one-pot, meat and vegetable dinner simmered in broth.
In the USA, it is rarely found in stores, but available in farmers' markets, where it is available through May, June, and July. The main root can also be boiled and served cold. The stems are also traditionally served battered and fried at St. Joseph's altars in New Orleans.
Cardoons are used as a vegetarian source of enzymes for cheese production. In Portugal, traditional coagulation of the curd relies entirely on this vegetable rennet. This results in cheeses such as the Nisa (D.O.P.), with a peculiar earthy, herbaceous and slightly citric flavour that bears affinity with full-bodied or fortified wines.
Cardoon has attracted recent attention as a possible source of biodiesel. The oil, extracted from the seeds of the cardoon, and called artichoke oil, is similar to safflower and sunflower oil in composition and use.
Cardoon is the feedstock for the first biorefinery in the world converting the installations of a petrochemical plant in Porto Novo, Sardinia, providing biomass and oils for the building blocks of bioplastics. Matrica, the joint venture of ENI and Novamont, will inaugurate the facility in the Fall of 2013.
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