Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 28

Christmas
Cardoons
by Nacho Monclús
SERVES 4 AS A SIDE DISH
My aunt provided this recipe, and she also finally
explained to me why we have always eaten cardoons at the holidays. Besides the fact that it is
one of the only vegetables that survives the winter
in the north of Spain, religion also plays a part: Up
until the mid 1960s, the Catholic Church decreed
that you can eat only vegetables, eggs or fish
before Christ is born. In Huesca, cardoons were
our vegetable of choice, dressed up with a creamy
sauce enriched with almonds and a little ham. (We
were not very Catholic adding the ham. It is more
traditional to serve the dish with only almonds.)
INGREDIENTS
1½ pounds cardoons
1 lemon, halved
4 ounces olive oil
½ large onion, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
4 ounces serrano ham, diced
4 ounces raw Marcona almonds, crushed
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Fill a large bowl with cold water and add the juice of
half a lemon. Set aside. Trim both ends of the cardoon
stalks and remove all the leaves. Using a paring knife,
shave the spiky edges off of each stalk and peel off the
large ribs (as you would with celery); discard. Cut each
stalk crosswise into 1- to 2-inch pieces and place them
in the lemon water so that they won't darken.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Fill
another large bowl with cold water and several ice
cubes. When the water has come to a boil, drain the
cardoon pieces and add them to the pot. Cook for 15
to 20 minutes, just until tender (they should still be a
bit firm.) Turn off the heat, scoop out the cardoons with
a strainer and put them directly into the ice water. Add
the juice from the remaining lemon half and a pinch of
salt. Reserve the cooking water.
In a large pot over medium heat, add enough olive
oil to coat the bottom. Add the onions and sauté until
transparent. Add the garlic and sauté for a minute.
Add the diced ham and cook until it begins to take on
some color. Then add the crushed almonds, cooking
them until fragrant and lightly toasted. Add the flour
and cook, stirring frequently, for a couple of minutes.
Little by little, add some of the cardoon cooking water-
just enough to make a creamy sauce. When you've
achieved the desired texture, drain the cardoons from
the ice water and add them to the sauce. Cook them
long enough to warm them through, then pour the mixture into a serving dish. Garnish with chopped parsley.

28

WINE & SPIRITS

DECEMBER 2020

"I was, maybe,
eight years
old, when, on
Christmas
day, I put my
hand over my
glass to stop
my aunt from
adding soda
to a tiny bit of
Rioja, from a
bottle dressed in
golden mesh."

He was usually the only one who would drink that wine
from Calatayud without mixing it. Everyone else would add
a splash of gasesosa, to up the sugar and lower the heat of
the alcohol. As for the kids, we would get mostly soda with
a splash of wine.
But for Christmas, the porrón was hidden. Rioja was in
the house.
Bottles, labels, drawings, castles, crowns, colors, happy
faces, uncles trying to show off by discussing vintages. I was,
maybe, eight years old, when, on Christmas day, I put my
hand over my glass to stop my aunt from adding soda to
a tiny bit of Rioja, from a bottle dressed in golden mesh.
My aunt yelled at me, but I had seen the adults drinking
their wine without mixing in soda, and I was not going to,
either. Yayo was passing behind me and knuckled my head,
not too strong, just enough to make my cousins laugh. But
I knew it was a sign of approval.
Still, I rubbed my head, then started eating the cardo, a
traditional dish from the north-in Navarra, Aragon and
La Rioja-made with cardoons, the only vegetable that survives the cold temperatures. I would eat it quickly, trying
not to hate it too much, so I was allowed to eat the almonds
first and, after, the chunks of serrano ham.
This past Christmas, when my wife and I were actually
enjoying the cardo, I thought it would be the best moment
to bring out a surprise present for my yayo. I wanted to
make up for having missed so many family reunions
because of my job as a sommelier, and I brought him a
bottle of La Rioja Alta 890 from 1955. It was the same wine
he was holding in the framed picture on the wall.
When I handed him the wine, he touched the label more
delicately than he touches my daughter Lola's cheeks. He
played with the golden mesh, looked at the color through
the light, weighed the wine with his left hand and, with his
right, he pulled out an initialed handkerchief to dry the
tears that were coming on. Not many tears. No more than
three or four.
He gave the bottle back to me. "Bébelo con tu mujer," he
said and, for the first time in history, the house was silent.
Just as I began to wonder how I had managed to ruin this
moment, he said, "Where you have been happy, you should
not go back."
Then he started to talk about the photograph. It was
taken during my grandparents' honeymoon. They had borrowed a car as well as a camera for a week and headed to
Zarautz (close to Donostia); at the time, my yaya worked
for a rich family who had paid for the trip. Yayo had gotten this out-of-his-budget bottle because he had helped a
wine salesman whose car had broken down, giving him a
lift from Logroño to Zaragoza.
Everybody enjoyed the story, some with tears, some with
sweet smiles, as my yayo opened his heart as he had never
done before.
When everybody left the house, I drank the 1955 Rioja
with my wife, sitting in the same place where we had talked
with my yaya on that last visit. Listening to the crickets
and looking at my wife, I could see my grandma was right.
Do not expect any tasting notes. ■



Wine & Spirits - December 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Wine & Spirits - December 2020

Contents
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - Cover1
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - Cover2
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 1
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 2
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - Contents
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 4
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 5
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 6
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 7
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 8
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 9
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 10
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 11
Wine & Spirits - December 2020 - 12
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