TASTE OF TRIESTE: Spring Edition

With the arrival of Spring, the local countryside gifts us with several wonderful spontaneous edible herbs. The farmers’ markets and vegetable shops display these prized local erbe spontanee (spontaneous herbs) and there is a rush to get your hands on them before their brief season ends. Among the most prized are the sclopit or bladder campion a.k.a. silene vulgaris, asparagi selvatici a.k.a. wild asparagus not to be confused with the very similar Bruscandoli (wild hops), dente di leone/Tarassaco a.k.a dandelion, and aglio orsino a.k.a. wild garlic  (actually garlic greens and flowers — the Italian name means Bear Garlic, as bears waking from their hibernation tend to eat it in huge quantities).

Because foraging is popular here, please be aware that the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia has strictly enforced guidelines for what can be picked, how much and where.  Of the herbs discussed here, you are limited to 1 kilogram per person, per day, but check with the local regional website for updates. Also, It is important to KNOW YOUR PLANTS!  Every so often someone ends up in the hospital, recently a gentleman died after ingesting a poisonous plant he mistook for bear garlic.

All of these ingredients are believed to be sources of health enhancing properties albeit not necessarily supported by science; 

  • People use Bear Garlic for indigestion, intestinal gas, high blood pressure, skin rash, and other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support these uses.
  • Dandelion is known as a folk remedy for Urinary Tract Infections, inflammation, detoxing the body, and to help fight the common cold.
  • Wild Asparagus is considered to be a source of Folate which is helpful in reducing risk of heart disease, dementia and neural tube defects and a source of Vitamins A & C which reduce risk of heart disease and certain cancers, and protects eye and skin health and Vitamin K essential for bone formation and blood clotting as well as Potassium which helps maintains healthy blood pressure.
  • Sclopit is rich in magnesium, potassium and calcium and is considered depurative,  it is also rich in anti oxidants.

Most people prepare these foraged edibles to make steeped infusions, pestos or spreads and frittatas. But they also lend themselves to wonderful risottos. Here are my favorite ways of preparing these springtime treats.

Of these herbs, my personal favorite is Sclopit. The name Sclopit is derived from a childhood game when children would pick the flowers and pop them between their palms making a little explosive “poof” sound (schiopettare means “popping”). The tender leaves are herbaceous and light in flavor and not earthy like spinach. However, I find Sclopit  is best used in making a simple risotto and topped with local aged Montasio cheese. You can find my recipe here on a previous blog post.

Wild asparagus, are probably the most popular locally. They very bitter but blanching them helps soften the bite, and they are best prepared mixed in with soft scrambled eggs or in a frittata. The same is true for Bruscandoli, which people often confuse with wild asparagus, but instead are wild hops. They are also bitter and require some blanching to soften the flavor. Again both can be used in many preparations, but the frittata seems to be the best vehicle for them.

Frittata Recipe for 4 people:

– 8 medium eggs
– 1/4 C of cream
– 2 bunches of wild asparagus or bruscandoli (2 fistfuls)
– a clove of garlic (optional)
–  Salt and Pepper to taste
– olive oil

Wash and clean the asparagus (or bruscandoli) , selecting only the most tender tops. Chop them coarsely with a knife, then sauté them in the pan with a drizzle of oil and a crushed clove of garlic. Remove garlic from pan once it is golden.

Meanwhile, mix the cream and salt, and eggs and pour the egg mixture into the pan with the bruscandoli, distributing them evenly. Cook the omelette over medium flame, covered. As soon as it is set enough turn over, gently slide it onto a dish and then flip it back into the pan to finish cooking.

Dandelion can be used in salads (both the leaves and the petals) as well as in risottos, sauteed as a side dish, cooked into a frittata and made into a pesto. It too is a little bitter in flavor. Some also use it to make an herbal tea.  Be sure that if you are using the plant’s leaves in a salad then it should be before it has blossomed so that it is tender. Otherwise if the plant is blossomed you are best to use the flowers. I’ve read somewhere that it is also possible to batter the flowers and fry them although I have never tried. 

Wild garlic is very pretty and flavorful makes a wonderful pesto and can also be sauteed in butter and served as a flavorful side dish.  Again, I think it shines as a risotto. Here’s a great recipe for it:

RIsotto all’Aglio Orsino
(for  4  people)
1 small onion chopped
30g butter
360g  Carnaroli rice

1/2C dry white wine
4C vegetable broth to use as needed
1 bunch of Bear Garlic (half to cook and half to serve raw at end of dish prep)
salt and pepper to taste
60g of parmesan grated
One tin smoked salmon (optional)

Reserve half of your bunch of garlic greens to the side (you will use it raw to add at the end of the preparation of the dish) and chop the other half and mix it with the parmesan and half a glass of warm water and add salt and pepper and place to the side.

Finely chop the onion and sautee it in the pot with butter.   
Add the rice,  stirring well and toast it for 2 minutes,  then add the white wine and let it cook for a minute. 
Then add the broth bit by bit and mix well and allowing the rice to cook and absorb the liquid. Continue adding broth when needed, for at least 15 minutes.

When the rice is al dente,  add  the chopped garlic mixture, a knob of butter, and mix everything while continuing to cook on the flame.
Then remove the pot from the  heat,  cover and let stand  2 minutes.   
Before serving, add the reserved fresh garlic and use as decoration over the risotto. If Using the salmon, top each portion with a tablespoon of the salmon.

Whatever you decide to try, make sure you buy it from a reputable vegetable stand or market. If your heart is set on foraging, make sure you know what your doing and try to have someone verify your harvest before you cook it. But do enjoy these seasonal and special spontaneous herbs before time runs out!

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