The other day at a local market I came across a basketful of small bulbs. Muddy and rather unprepossessing, they made my heart skip a bit with excitement. “Lampascioni!”, I exclaimed and the man selling them confirmed with a nod.
Lampascioni are the bulbs of wild tassel hyacinths, Muscari racemosum. Known since the times of ancient Greeks, in Puglia and in some parts of Abruzzo, these delicious bulbs are harvested in late winter and devoured as a delicacy. Their bitter taste goes with many traditional dishes: in Puglia lampascioni are served cooked with fava beans and chicory, sautéed with potatoes, with lamb or pork roast. In Abruzzo they are normally eaten as sott’olio preserves. Cleaning them requires a lot patience. When they are stripped of their dirty outer layers, the pink bulbs are soaked in water overnight to get rid of the excessive bitterness. Then they are boiled with white vinegar, piled in jars and drowned in olive oil. That way they can keep for at least six months. I love them served with generous amounts of lemon juice and fresh parsley. The hyacinth bulbs grow on you: the first time I ate lampascioni I was quite disappointed. Second time I thought they were interesting, now I am addicted to their mildly bitter taste, crunchy texture and a delicate pink hue. Here is a good Italian recipe for making lampascioni sott’olio and here is a great post with a recipe in English.
I also found this recipe by the handsome Giorgio Locatelli of Locanda Locatelli in London that I can’t wait to try:
“Another fantastic way to use them is to boil some potatoes in their skins, bash them around a bit with a fork, then put in a bowl, add some cooked green beans and preserved lampascioni, before tossing in extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. It’s a delicious salad to serve with sausages, and also makes a nice change to mashed potato – particularly so if your kids don’t eat green beans: you never know, this might tempt them”.