Uncle David's Cardoon Recipe

If you haven't heard of cardoons before, I can't say I blame you. For as long as I can remember, my family would tell the stories of how my grandfather would go along the highway and pick cardoons. Generally a privilege reserved for the men in the family, my mother got to go just once or twice--which was a distinct honor. My Uncle David, my mother's younger brother, got to go quite often and so he learned the whole process from picking to cleaning to cooking the cardoons.

Cardoons are a thistle-like plant in the artichoke family. They are in season between Mother's Day and Father's Day. When I went to cook with my uncle they weren't quite in season (so we couldn't go picking them) but we were able to order them from Wegman's because many Italian families have them for Easter.

If you can find them, they truly are a treat! They take on the taste of whatever they are prepared in. Let's get to the pictures and I will explain as we go!

This what the cardoons (pronounced by my family as "gar-dune-a-s") look like. You want to place them in a large amount of cold water. It's important that the water is cold, not hot, so that they don't begin to cook. Whether you buy them at a  store or you pick them yourself, they will be dirty and need a good cleanin'! 

You know celery has those stringy thingys? Well these do too. You have to remove them. This my attempt. 

This is another look at the cardoon stalk. Note, the leaves. 

This is how you remove them. See the knife? It's my great-grandfather's knife. Grandpa Charlie. He made this knife himself and I was honored just to hold it in my hand! 

Once my Uncle David saw the hack job I was doing on the cardoons, he took over. It was my first time after all. I was on cleaning duty. The water was freezing and my hands turned pink cleaning, but I was determined. 

Once the cardoons were cleaned, because of their size, we chopped them in half. 

Into the pot! You boil the cardoons in water until they are tender, which is about 20-30 minutes depending on the size. These were large, so they took about 25 minutes. 

My mom kept eating the tender cardoons, which in this state, tasted of artichokes (because they are in the same family.) We really enjoyed them! 

Then you roll them in egg and then in breadcrumbs and then you fry them about 7 minutes on each side until they look like this. Put them on paper towels to get the excess oil off 

And then transfer them to a serving plate! 


Time: Prep 1 hour, Cook 45 minutes | Servings: 6-8 | Difficulty Level: Medium 

You Will Need:

Several bunches of cardoons (we had nearly 9 pounds, but we froze some) 
Olive oil (for frying) 
5 eggs, beaten 
2 cups Breadcrumbs, plus extra just in case 


Fill your sink with cold water. Add the cardoons to the sink. 

Take one stalk out at a time, and remove the leaves on the sides of the plant. Next, using a good, sharp knife, cut at the top and pull back, removing the fibrous "strings" that run lengthwise through the plant. There will be several of them and removing them makes the plant tender to eat. This step takes a lot of time, so it's good to have a partner to help you. 

After removing the strings, return the plant to the water and using your thumb, scrape the stalk to remove dirt and clean them thoroughly. If the stalks are particularly large, like the ones we had, then cut them in half. 

Prepare a large pot of boiling water. Add the cleaned and cut cardoons to the water and allow to boil until they are tender, about 20-30 minutes depending on the size. Allow them to cool slightly. 

On a plate, place your eggs and beat them. On a separate plate, place your breadcrumbs. 

Heat a healthy amount of oil (perhaps three times around the pan or so) over medium high heat straying more to the high side. 

Dip each cardoon in the egg and then into the breadcrumbs to coat well. Add to the heated oil and fry on each side until golden brown (about 5-7 minutes each side). After fried, place them on a paper towel covered plate to remove excess oil and then transfer to a serving platter. 

Continue until all the cardoons are cooked! 

You can also freeze the cooked cardoons (that have NOT been breaded and fried) until you are ready to use them. This is certainly a  great way to go considering how much work it is to get them ready!!! 



  1. I live in Chicago and have fond memories of my Sicilian Mother , Grandmother and I would go Gardune picking in the Forest Preserves every Sunday in the Spring Months .
    Other than finding these in the wild , do have any ideas how to get them . Can they be grown in a home garden ?
    I miss eating these so much , we as kids would fight over them .

    Thanks, Carol

    1. Hi Carol! Some grocery stores have them. My uncle ordered these from Wegmans. In my area, which is more rural, we don't have any luck getting them. But if you have a speciality store (like an Italian food market) you may be able to find them there.

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  3. Great advice on freezing. We have a few cardoon plants that need to be harvested before the freeze. I've also found themat Safeway and Wegman's here in D.C. I plan to make a gratin.

  4. Oh my gosh-- I can't believe I found this post! My Mimi would pick bird ox and freeze it. She used a knife sometimes but mostly sheered them with her fingernails. We'd eat them at the holidays with scrambled eggs!! I've never seen them fried. This is awesome. Brought back Mimi for a minute. She called it "Cardooni" :)