And so.....the taste test!
Lampacioni have a unique taste: assertive, earthy, and intensely bitter. The flavour is somehow broad and flat on the palate, and reminded me strongly of both Belgian Endive and - surprisingly - Brussels Sprouts. I'd never before realised quite how alike in flavour those two things are ..
Like all vegetables, Lampacioni can be cooked pretty much anyway you like - however there are several tradional recipes which reflect both their history and their regionality. Molinari lists a few options from Puglia. In most of these, the peeled and soaked Lampacioni are first cooked in water and thereafter finished with either vinaigrette, or in a sweet and sour dressing, or in a little tomato sauce, or else dipped in flour and beaten-egg and then fried. There's a famous frittata recipe for them, as well, and a way to cook them beside the fire in an earthenware casserole, where the unpeeled Lampacioni are put in the covered pot with a covering of plenty of damp straw and allowed to steam gently in their skins for a couple of hours until completely tender.
The problem, of course, isn't so much how to cook the Lampacioni, as how to find them in the first place. They're still popular - and therefore, available - in Puglia and in Morocco, and like all bulbs they store well. So, any you might find on your travels are worth buying and transporting home for future use. Once par-cooked, they can either be frozen or else preserved in oil. As far as I know they only grow wild, so - sadly - , the supply is at risk and the chance to experience this unique ancient vegetable is dwindling. There is a supplier who sells them bottled - which I haven't tried, but I imagine they would stand up to the preserving method as well as, say, baby artichoke hearts.
Anyway, enough blather. The following is the recipe for Lampacioni in Agrodolce, which we ate last night along with a rich and strongly-flavoured Spezzatino of beef.
The most practical approach in doing this recipe is to leave the Garlic heating in the Oil as you serve the first course, and then quickly go through the rest of the recipe after the first course has been cleared.
Ingredients: 500 grs peeled Lampacioni; Olive Oil; 1 clove Garlic (crushed with the back of a knife, but left whole); 15 g Capers; 1 tbsp Sugar; 1 tbsp Wine Vinegar; 1 tbsp chopped Parsley; Salt and Pepper.
1. Cut a cross in the root end of each bulb, as for Brussels Sprouts, and soak them for at least 8 hours: overnight is better. Like beans, Lampacioni are indigestible unless soaked.
2. Cook them like potatoes, in plenty of salted boiling water until done, about 20-25 minutes depending on the size - but don't let them collapse. Drain, and refresh in cold water if not using at once.
3. Gently sweat the crushed garlic in the oil for 15 minutes to draw out the flavour, then remove the Garlic and add the Lampacioni to the pan. Stir over moderate heat until warmed through; add the other ingredients, and cook for a further minute or two, stirring.
Serve, sprinkled with chopped Parsley.