Monday, 24 March 2014

Do You Dig It?

Lampascioni in Agrodolce con Velutata di Ceci & Cimetti di Rapa
Sweet & Sour Edible Hyacinth Bulbs with a Cream of Chickpeas & Tender Cimi di Rapa

No, you didn't dig them up and neither did I- but someone in Puglia in Italy once dug up hyacinth bulbs at one point and decided to try eating them! What a strange and dangerous thing to do!

I say dangerous, because if they are not prepared correctly, Lampascioni, or edible Hyacinth bulbs... will be anything BUT edible! They will be bitter in the extreme and possibly poisonous! So why on Earth would one DO such a thing? I have no idea... but they were there on the market on Saturday and I intended to find out!
I guess I am a little funny that way...

I had heard of "Lampascioni", but never eaten them- and when I saw these little bulbs on Nina's market stall on Saturday, I wasn't really sure that that was what they were- but sure enough, she confirmed it for me and at the same time warned me about there bitterness. I asked her is she liked them and she said "Absolutely not!"- which of course was all I needed to hear to make my mind up... I HAD to try them out!

So I grabbed a handful and as soon as I got back home, I scoured the internet for a recipe- where I thankfully discovered that there is a certain method to preparing them so that they lose most of their bitterness... in the same way that olives also need to be cured before becoming edible and delicious. I am so glad I found out- otherwise I may have been as disappointed as Nina was!

Before attempting to cook the Lampascioni, a rather time-consuming preparation needs to take place. 3 days of preparation! Which does not entail any hard work of course- but does require a little planning- and there I was, expecting to be able to try them out right away!

The preparation entails topping, tailing and peeling the bulbs- and this also entails releasing a sticky, clear, deathly-bitter tasting, resinous "ooze"- but don't let that put you off! Haha. Give them a good rinse, pop them into a saucepan of water and a good pinch of salt and let them boil for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, pour off the water, rinse with fresh, cold water and let them sit and soak over night. Discard the water the morning after, refill and repeat... for 3 days in all- this will get rid of the most extreme of the bitterness, although there will still be bitterness remaining- it is the nature of Lampascioni after all!

That was the preparation work involved in the Lampascioni- and the other ingredients I used this evening were- 5 tablespoons of chickpea flour, 5 tablespoons of strong red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons of honey, fresh rosemary and marjoram and as a little accompaniment, 2 very small and tender stalks of cime di rapa... a nice, rustic mix of ingredients for a old-school country dish!

First things first, those Lampascioni will need a few minutes to cook properly- 15 to 20 minutes to be precise! So I began by briefly sautéing them with some finely chopped rosemary and a little garlic, in a light drizzle of olive oil. Once they were beginning to turn brown, I added the red wine vinegar, the same amount of water, a little salt and pepper and let them bubble away for the following 5 minutes

In the meantime, in a second small saucepan, I stirred the 5 tablespoons of chickpea flour together with some boiling water until it became a smooth-ish yogurt-like consistency. I say smooth-ish, because there will be a few little lumps- but don't worry too much just yet! Before doing that, add plenty of salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg . a good splash of boiling water and grab a whisk to work everything nicely together... and you will find that, that is exactly what will happen. Using the whisk, the lumps will quickly and easily be worked-away into a smooth paste- it really will not be a problem. You will find that it thickens up rather quickly whilst you work over the hot stove, so keep adding water and stirring and adding water and stirring, until it becomes the consistency of nice, creamy mashed potatoes... easy! And really simple, but tasty too!

Back to the bulbs, which will by now have absorbed a lot of the wine vinegar and have become a rich amber-pink color and which will be able to handle some sweetness by now- which we will add in the form of those 2 tablespoonfuls worth of honey- hmmm! I added enough water as well to cover the base of the frying pan, gave the Lampascioni a stir and let them simmer on and reduce down for a further 10 minutes or so- and in that time I prepared the tender, young cime di rapa...

I popped the cime into a small frying pan with a nice splash of olive oil and a hint of crushed garlic, let them sizzle for 1-2 minutes and then deglazed the pan with a good splash of boiling water. I let them simmer away for 5-6 minutes or so, until the water had evaporated away and the cime began to sizzle a little in the remaining oil. I seasoned them with a little salt and added a last little dash of olive oil and by now was ready to serve everything up... and it was about time too!

I first spooned out the creamy chickpea puré and then carefully laid the cime out in a decorative circle... not essential- but I just wanted it to be pretty, ok? Haha! And then in went the shiny, honey and vinegar-coated bulbs. A few render leaves or marjoram added a nice, fresh herbal note and a nice grind of mixed peppers the finishing touch- and it just looked and smelled so wonderful!

The Lampascioni remain firm to the bite, and they retain their bitterness- but with the herbs, the honey and the vinegar and eaten with the mild and creamy chickpea purée, it makes for an ideal combination! So if you enjoy a little bitterness with your sweet-stuff, you might want to give this a try at some point. In all honesty- they are not going to rank too highly on my list of favorites, as there are other things that are more mild and pleasant in any case- but you'll never know if you never try! And the fact that I am writing this up for you now will tell you that I survived- I wonder if you are going to be brave and try them out too!


  1. You know, I've always been curious about lampascioni. Never had a chance to try them, but I'm very curious. And like you, I've always wondered how someone figured out that they could be eaten, especially given the rather elaborate preparation they need to make them edible. They must have been ingenious—or very desperate...

  2. Frank- I am putting my money on "desperate"... 'cause it ain't a-worth it! It was an interesting experience and I wouldn't have missed it, being the curious fellow that I am... but they were just THAT bit TOO bitter! Nina warned me- and I didn't listen! ;-)