This cardoon looks a lot like celery after some very hard living, but it’s actually from the artichoke family—Cynara cardunculus.
You may recognize its linguistic similarity to Cynar, the Italian artichoke-based bitter aperitivo also produced by Campari. The plant is a perennial with silvery-green leaves and edible stalks that can grow up to 7’ tall. It has some sharp, almost razor-like edges that you don’t really want to brush up against. When the plant flowers, the blossom looks like a large purple thistle. Though it’s often regarded as a nuisance weed in North America, other more civilized cultures have long regarded it as good eating. When the Italians grow it, they bend the young stalks down to the ground and bury them in the earth. This blanches the stalks, reducing bitterness and making them so tender they’re even served raw with bagna cauda
or a similar achovy-based sauce. Cardoons are also delicious fried or made in classic Roman style, blanketed with a buttery bechamel sauce, as in my recipe below.