The weather has been very changeable here in Italy over the past few months. After a long hard winter with seemingly endless snow we had a few very warm weeks and now the weather veers between sunshine and heavy rain – which may sound very familiar to those of you living in the UK but is much less typical for Spring in Piedmont!
Between the showers there are plenty of foraging opportunities at this time of year and this part of Italy has lots to offer including luvertin, which is the Piedmontese name for wild hop shoots. During the spring period it is an ancient tradition for the Piedmontese to collect the luvertin shoots – also known as wild asparagus due to their shape – cooking them in a pan with butter or adding them to a risotto, soup or frittata (omelette). The wild hop is a perennial herbaceous plant typically found along riverbanks, at the edge of the forest and in hedges. Alternatively you can do what I did and buy it from the local farmer’s market for a few euros! I also cheated by using some shop bought pastry I found in my freezer for this dish but you can use my simple recipe for shortcrust pastry if you prefer. The luvertin can be replaced by standard asparagus spears sliced vertically and cooked in the same way.
A bunch of mixed herbs
A handful of fresh spinach
A bunch of luvertin or half a dozen asparagus spears trimmed and sliced lengthways
150g chestnut mushrooms
100g hard cheese e.g. Parmesan or a mature cheddar
A pack of shortcrust pastry
Butter for cooking
Start by chopping up the green leaves and herbs together, leaving the luvertin or asparagus to one side for the moment. Roughly chop the mushrooms.
Sauté the chopped vegetables for 7-8 minutes in a knob of butter, seasoning well with salt and pepper. Place the luvertin or asparagus in a pan of salted water and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain and leave to cool.
Beat the eggs in a bowl, adding the sautéed greens and mushrooms once they are cool.
Use the pastry to line a buttered flan dish and pour in the eggy vegetable mixture. Lay the luvertin or asparagus on the top, pushing the spears into the mixture slightly so they don’t catch in the oven.
Bake the flan in a hot oven (200C) for 20-25 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the mixture has set. Serve hot or cold.