A highly seasonal—and versatile—plant from the Venetian countryside
“It is not a product that is well known in this country,” says Charles as he points to a tangle of thin red stalks, tiny leaves and spear-shaped heads nestling among the multicoloured array of fruits and veg that is Turnips. If your unruly teen someday decides to dye their hair green and red, it might look a bit like a bunch of bruscandoli. “But it is very popular in parts of Italy. We started selling it about three years ago when one of the chefs we supply asked if we could source some, and we have sold it on the stall since then.
“One of the things I like about it is that this is a very seasonal product—it’s around for two months at the most,” he explains. “it will begin to arrive in March and by the beginning of May it will be gone, so you have to get it when it is here.”
Bruscandoli are the end tips of the hop plants which are found in profusion in the Venetian countryside, and while they are thrown away in other hop-growing areas, there they are a seasonal delicacy.
Delicate hoppy flavour
“They have a light, quite delicate hoppy flavour with a slight bitter edge—something that the Italians like so much. I have to admit they are a bit untidy to look at, but that is because the stalks are so thin. They have a similarity to wild asparagus about them, but with an entirely different flavour,” Charles explains.
“I have been cooking with it quite a lot recently, as it is not a vegetable I have used much before. My favourite way of cooking it is to par-boil them very briefly—it can be as little as one minute but two at most, there has to be a slight bite to them when you are finished—then plunge them straight into cold water to stop the cooking.”
After that there are several ways that you can go: “I like them sautéed with a bit of butter and some wild garlic, which is also around at the moment and very good, or if you think of those springtime meals when you grab some ingredients like potatoes, watercress, pea shoots, salad leaves, lollo rosso and are just throwing together something light, adding some bruscandoli to the mix—it really is delicious. One dish I really like is bruscandoli with some sweet tomatoes, asparagus, salad leaves and a light olive oil dressing.”
Soups and omelettes
“Most of our Italian customers return to the stall when bruscandoli are in season, and use it as an ingredient in a wide variety of dishes, such as soups and omelettes,” says Charles. “One particularly popular dish is bruscandoli risotto.”
In a saucepan, gently fry some finely chopped garlic in extra virgin olive oil, add a couple of bunches of roughly chopped bruscandoli and let it simmer until they start to soften. Then add the rice and start stirring in the broth in stages, as you would for any risotto. When the rice is cooked, adjust the salt and pepper, stir in some butter, and sprinkle with parmigiano reggiano.
“Every season we find something different and it means we get to learn a bit about how other cultures cook,” Charles says smiling. “Exactly the kind of product I like finding here at the Market.”