Foods of Argentina: Cardo (Cardoons)

Cardoons [Cardo] Near the Río Quequén in Necochea, Argentina by katiemetz on Flickr[Cardoons (Cardos) growing near the Río Quequén in Necochea, Argentina]

Late spring and early summer drives along the dusty country roads that wind through Argentine farmland invariably include sightings of an odd, spiky plant crowned with a vibrant purple flower. Generally considered an agricultural pest here, the cardoon or artichoke thistle (Spanish: cardo) competes for valuable resources and land with cash crops such as sunflowers, wheat, corn and soybeans and presents issues for livestock.

It's believed that Spanish settlers accidentally introduced cardoons to Argentina through contaminated wheat seed sometime during the early or mid-1700s. The plant flourished in the rich soil of the Argentine pampa, much to the dismay of farmers. I, myself, was reminded of the stubborn nature of the cardo just a couple months ago when I began to notice the plant's characteristic leaves popping up on our lawn. If you think dandelions pose a challenge to your green thumb, you've never gone mano a mano with a cardo.

Now that I've painted a sufficiently grim portrait of the cardo situation, you'll imagine my surprise when I ran across this post about cardoons on the food blog Serious Eats. I came to find out that the young, tender stalks of the cardo are edible…and command a tidy sum, at that! Chef Mario Batali apparently considers cardoons one of his favorite vegetables, praising their "very sexy flavor."

Cardoon [Cardo] by tvol, on Flickr [used under Creative Commons license]

As it turns out, cardoons can be difficult to source in the United States and are primarily found in farmer's markets. I'm seriously thinking I need to start a cardo exportation business. Who's in?

In terms of taste, the cardoon features "a delicate flavor reminiscent of an artichoke." Celebrated in Mediterranean cuisine, the cardoon enjoys considerable popularity in both Italy and Spain. For better or worse, said popularity didn't follow the cardo to its New World home in Argentina.

In a way, it's rather misleading to include the words "Foods of Argentina" in the title of this post, since cardoons aren't widely appreciated as a food source in most parts of the country. However, in the provinces of Córdoba and Santa Fe, cardo is sometimes eaten as part of bagna cauda, a warm dip served with vegetables, brought by Italian immigrants from the Piedmont region.

Have you ever tried cardoons?

[Photo credit: tvol]

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