Spring Vegetables

May 12, 2014 / Food & Wine
Monterosso, Liguria

Spring means lots of things here in Italy.

Little flowers peeking through damp soil, pink blossoms opening on cherry trees, kumquats glowing orange against lush green leaves, and most importantly, the return of color and fun vegetables to our weekly markets.  

There are some vegetables that look more like geometry projects than things you eat (broccolo romanesco) and some others that appear only for a few weeks in the spring time.

romanesco broccoli

Everyone makes a beeline for the fava beans as you are elbow to elbow with an old nonna buying what looks to be her weight in the bright green pods.  

The local wild asparagus gets snapped up in minutes, knowing eyes surveying the woody, scraggly thin stalks full of flavor and still covered in dirt.  

local asparagus, the wild kind are long and skinny

Barba di frate, which look like lawn clippings, are usually caked in mud, but when cleaned, boiled and sauteed in garlic and oil, it’s earthy, spinach-like flavor tastes just like spring.  

agretti aka barba di frate ("monk's beard) aka salsola soda

Sometimes I wind up picking things up without even knowing what they are, but knowing that they will be gone in just a few weeks as the summer peaches and cherries claim their space makes them taste even more delicious.

fresh peas and zucchini flowers

Christine Mitchell

by Christine Mitchell

Christine has a Master’s Degree in Food Studies and Culture from New York University, and spends most of her waking hours cooking food, serving food at La Cantina Di Miky, happily talking about food and writing about food – and wouldn’t have it any other way, except maybe with an Italian craft beer in her hand.

You can follow her adventures on her blog, www.lifeinliguria.blogspot.com and you can follow Monterosso’s continued progress on www.rebuildmonterosso.com.

8 Responses to “Spring Vegetables”

  1. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    As an Italian/American (1st gen) chef I can only dream of (unless I am fortunate enough to be in Italy at Springtime) the incredible vegetation that you enjoy each year, if only in season….I smiled at your comment of buying things you did not know, I too have done that when in Italia with pleased palate every time. THANK YOU

  2. Anne Robichaud

    Enjoyed the note and the photos! Having maybe the last agretti (barba di frate) of the season tonight..sigh. The season is too short! I opt for just olive oil and lemon juice – and Pino likes them sautéed in anchovies and capers. Christine, how do YOU vote ? ; Grazie!

  3. Rosemary

    You have brought my memories back to our days of living in Sicily when we went on a hunt for the wild asparagus with our Sicilian friends who knew exactly where to look and at the end of the day gifted us with what they found! Risotto with wild asparagus is what we had for dinner that night!

  4. Luckily there are sites on the Internet where Italian seeds can be bought, hence every year “I’m back home in Italy” even though I live in California, also because the State has weather exactly as in Italy I have eleven fig trees around the house, all from cuttings I brought back from Italy and Sicily, also there are four different types of Sicilian cactus enjoying our mild weather. Every time time I step outside I’m immediately back in Italy. Do look for seeds on the Internet!

  5. Tony Cogan

    Sitting in our holiday apartment in Camogli and now can’t wait to get in very early at Wednesday’s mercato in via Della Repubblica!

  6. Giuseppe Spano
    Giuseppe Spano

    caro John Gian Banchero Io non sono siciliano, ma Pugliese e vivo a Pa. quindi non sono in grado di crescere quando si ha la fortuna. Perciò devo visitare l’Italia (almeno mai secondo anno) per godere la vostra felicità.

  7. Christine Mitchell

    @Anne: I love olive oil and garlic and peperoncino, honestly – and I actually draw from my ridiculous spice collection and sometimes use some sumac too…though not italian!

    @Giuseppe – Thank YOU!

    @Tony – I love Camogli! One of my favorite places. Did you enjoy the festival?!

    @Rosemary – I love wild asparagus hunting – you are so right about the risotto. Amazing. We found one asparagus stalk 2 years ago that was about 2 feet long, I’m not kidding. I was scared to even eat it I was so amazed.


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