Friday, October 17, 2008

Bitter Bulbs

While visiting la famiglia in Basilicata, my cousin's wife broke open a jar of home-canned treats packed in olive oil. They had a slightly bitter bite, similar to radicchio but with a hint of orange peel. When we asked, "ma cos'e? Cipollini?" she smiled slyly and proudly replied, "no, they're not onions, they're lampascioni."

Lampascioni look deceivingly like baby onions, but they're actually the bulbs of a type of hyacinth. Melina forages for them in the countryside and then brings them home, soaks them in white wine and with orange peel to remove some of the bitterness, then packs them in jars sott'olio, literally, "under olive oil". They're actually somewhat addictive.

Lampascioni are common around southern Italy, but I've never seen them in the stores here in Le Marche. They are often served as part of the antipasto plate, but Melina gave me a quick and simple recipe that turns them into a delicious side dish, too.
Here it is, according to her verbal instructions:

-Peel and chop some potatoes. (It's always understood that you'll know how many you'll need.)
-Drain the jar of lampascioni, and quarter them all.
-Put the potatoes and lampascioni in a baking dish and mix together. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, then drizzle on a good deal of olive oil.
-Bake it for about 30 to 40 minutes, stirring it up occasionally., until the potatoes are tender.

If you happen to find these tasty tubers, grab a jar and give them a try.