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As autumn turns into winter comes the arrival of cardoons. This is a perennial; vegetable that if left to grow will reach over 1.5 metres in height and is often planted as an ornamental in her baceous borders for its silver-grey leaves and architectural form; it is basically a very large and beautiful edible thistle. Cardoons are closely related to artichokes, which are prized for their purple flowers and edible buds, whereas it is the blanched creamy white stalks of the cardoon that are delicious to eat. The plant needs cold, but not freezing weather to do well. The relatively new growth is blanched, the young stalks, roughly 40-50cm high, are tied up and wrapped in newspaper with their leaves poking out the top. The stalks need to be harvested before the spring and warm weather get going or they will become tough and too bitter to eat. Cardoons have a slightly bittersweet flavour similar to artichokes, only different. You have to try them to appreciate their unusual taste. I like to boil the stalks in vegetable stock for a little extra flavour, but they are just as good boiled in water.

+ Ingredients

500g cardoon stalks - use the inner paler stalks as these will be more tender with a good flavour
½ lemon
450ml water or vegetable stock
40g butter
A little olive oil
150ml double cream
80g vegetarian friendly Parmesan cheese*

Salt and black pepper

+ Method

Preheat the oven to 220—¦C (200—¦C fan) Gas 7. Trim the ends of the cardoon stalks, then peel to remove the outer stringy ridges from the stems. Cut each stalk into about 10cm lengths. Place in a bowl of cold water with the juice of half a lemon top prevent discolouration.

Pour the water or stock into a saucepan, add a pinch of salt and bring to a boil.

Add the cardoon stalks and simmer and simmer until just tender, 30-35 minutes, then drain in a colander.

Butter an earthenware, ovenproof dish just large enough to hold the cardoons in closely. Lay them in the dish, slightly overlapping and lightly drizzle a little olive oil over, then season with salt and pepper. Heat the cream gently first in a pan then pour it over the cardoons and grate the parmesan evenly over the top. Put in the oven and bake until bubbling hot and starting to brown, 10-15 minutes.

Serves 4 - 6

Photography copyright Laura Edwards

* Parmesan/Parmigiano-Reggiano is made with calf rennet. Can be substituted with a parmesan style hard cheese or vegan dairy free parmesan style cheese.