Christmas festivities in Abruzzo mean gargantuan feasts. However, there are some dishes that are meant to give you a break from the heavy meals. Thistle, or cardoon soup (zuppa di cardo) is one of them, although, as calorie count goes, it is still quite rich. In Abruzzo, thistle stalks are called “Christmas greens” and the soup is traditionally made for pranzo natalizio, on December 25.
Several Italian regions have a version of this soup. In Molise, it is made with in a capon broth. In Piedmont butter is added and in Apulia – tomatoes.
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 cooked in soups and pies. Small green grocers’ as well as bigger supermarkets sell pre-packed chopped cardoon. Although the real Italian mammas prefer buying fresh bunches of leaves and cleaning them at home. Many families add a personal touch to the recipe: the soup is served with toasted croutons, a sprinkle or nutmeg, squeeze of lemon juice or slices of omelette (frittata). Here is the basic recipe of Christmas thistle soup from Abruzzo most commonly.
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 thoroughly mix the veal with one egg and breadcrumbs, 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, parmesan and olive oil.
If you prefer the cardoon to be soft rather than slightly crunchy, add 15 minutes to cooking time.
Buon appetito e Buon Natale!