My boyfriend introduced me to this delightful thistle, or cardoon soup (zuppa di cardo). He is born in Abruzzo and proudly insists that the soup can only be found in his native region. However, just between us, I have seen a similar recipe from Molise. In Piedmont they also make a cardoon soup but with butter and some additional ingredients that make it a tad heavy. What I like about this Abruzzo soup that it is on the lighter side. If you are wondering what cardoon is imagine a thistle-like plant with impressive large leaves that remind of an artichoke but with smaller flower buds. It is the stems that are cleaned, chopped and turned into delicious dishes in Italy.
The soup is normally cooked in December-January and comes as a welcome relief to hearty festive food of the season. Small green grocer’s as well as bigger supermarkets sell pre-packed chopped cardoon. Although the real Italian mammas prefer buying fresh bunches of leaves and clean them at home.
500g cleaned and chopped cardoon
200g veal mince
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tbsp grated parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste
Put the cardoon in a pot with 2 litres of water and bring it to boil. In the meantime mix the veal with one egg and breadcrumbs thoroughly, make small meatballs (about 1cm in diameter). Brown them in a frying pan in olive oil, add garlic. Put the meatballs and garlic in the soup and cook for 30-35 minutes. Beat the remaining egg in a small bowl, slowly pour it into the pot while swirling the soup with a spoon to get small strands of egg. Cook it for another minute. Cool it slightly. Season and serve with parsley, permesan and olive oil.
If you prefer the cardoon to be soft rather than slightly crunchy, cook it for extra 10 minutes.