food. family. life.

zuppa di cardone e polpettini di vitello

Italy’s regions have a wide variety of soups or zuppas that carry them through the cold winter days and nights. One zuppa I have come to love has its origins in Abruzzo.

This region is located in central Italy where you will see it is filled with mountainous lands, wonderful people and delicious local food traditions.

The Abruzzese are the genius creators of maccheroni alla chitarra and one of the most amazing cured meats, Mortadella, which is prized in this region.

I came across this recipe one winter season and I asked Mammina Loreta about the main ingredient, cardone or cardoons.

This tough, stalk type vegetable is from the thistle family (as are artichokes) and actually has a slight bitter artichoke-like flavor.

The cleaning and prep of this ingredient is a bit time consuming, but well worth the effort when you taste the finished product.zuppa di cardone_veal polpettini_1

I prefer to use fresh cardoons and clean them myself, some grocers actually carry already cleaned and blanched cardoons in the freezer section which might work just as well (I advise checking the flavor of the frozen variety, I would taste them prior to using them in this recipe.)

Cardoons look sort of like a celery stalk, but the ribs have tough fibers running through them and the sides are covered in prickly thorns ready to cut into your hands, so I always advise working with gloves on when cleaning these stalks for the dish.

Once the cardoons have been cleaned of their leaves and side thorns and you have removed the tough outer strings by hand or with a vegetable peeler, then you can cut them into small strips and parboil or blanch them to use in this recipe and many other dishes from a gratin to breading and frying them to make a tasty appetizer treat.

Traditionally, this zuppa calls for an egg, grated cheese and nutmeg mixture to blend in right before serving. This makes the dish a bit richer and filling, so you can opt to do this is you wish (my version here is prepared sans the egg mixture.)


{cardoon soup with miniature veal meatballs}

1 pound ground veal (if you do not eat veal; feel free to use ground chicken or turkey)

grated parmigiano cheese

2 small garlic cloves (peeled and minced)

2 whole eggs

1 bunch of fresh Italian flat leaf parsley (trimmed & dried)

1/4 to 1/2 cup low sodium lightly seasoned bread crumbs (homemade or store brand)

whole milk

2 large cardoon plants

1 large clove garlic (peeled and minced)

large pot of homemade chicken stock or bone broth

salt and pepper to taste


2 to 3 whole eggs

grated parmigiano cheese

1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

Clean and prep the cardoon stalks as described in the video link above. Cut into bite size segments about the size of your thumb or so and place in acidulated water (ice cold water with cut lemons) and set aside for 5 minutes or so.

Bring a large stock pot of salted water to boil. Drain the cardoon pieces well and add to the boiling water and cook for 20-25 minutes or more until fork tender and soft to the bite. Drain and set aside.

In a large deep bowl, place the ground veal and break it up a bit with your hands, add the 2 eggs and season with salt and pepper. Blend this mixture a bit and add in the minced garlic and seasoned breadcrumbs and mix.

Add a splash of whole milk if too dry and mix well until the mixture forms a ball easily. Add some fresh chopped parsley leaves at the finish and combine well.

By hand, form small meatballs and place them on a tray until all the meat mixture has been formed. The meatballs should be about teaspoon size or so.

In a large deep nonstick skillet, add some olive oil and place on medium heat.zuppa di cardone_veal polpettini_4

Add the meatballs without crowding and brown them lightly until golden in color. Remove and cook all remaining meatballs until mixture is done. Set aside.

In a large soup stock pot add the homemade chicken stock and, the minced garlic clove and the cooked meatballs (add in as many as you wish and freeze the rest for later.)

Let this simmer on medium heat for about 5 to 8 minutes and taste for seasonings (add salt and pepper to taste.)

Once this has cooked for no more than 15 minutes or so, remove from the heat and serve immediately in bowls topped with chopped fresh parsley and grated parmigiano cheese at the table.

{Option:} Just before serving, place the zuppa on a very low simmer and in a small bowl, beat 2-3 eggs (depending on size) with a handful of grated cheese, the nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

Beat this mixture together until well blended. While the zuppa is simmering very slowly, drizzle the mixture into the simmering zuppa and stir with a wooden spoon.

Remove from heat and serve immediately. I love this heartier version when I am eating the zuppa with a small salad as my evening meal.zuppa di cardone_veal polpettini_25

Note: Photography provided by Annette L. Venditti

Buon Appetito! 
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