What makes Venetian cuisine so fabulous? It’s the wild herbs.

Spring carpets Veneto with colour, as violets, daisies and other wildflowers spring up from the meadow. But that scent on the breeze? It’s not from the flowers alone, but also from the proliferation of wild herbs.

These wild herbs are an ancient gift of nature, and they’re still there, ripe for the picking — if you have the eyes (and nose) to detect them. And they’re more than a pretty addition to the landscape.

They’re a flavorsome addition to Venetian cuisine. And, as the Nonnas know, there’s goodness to be found in the dandelions, poppy flowers, bladder campion, wild hop sprouts, and nettles. In Veneto, we call these herbs Tarassaco, Ròsole, Carletti, Bruscandoli, and Ortiche. In our vineyard we have almost all of them grow wild.

Sadly, these wonderful wild herbs and methods of preparing them are hard to find in restaurants, even in Veneto’s top establishments. Everyone should be able to taste them, because there’s nothing better than a dish like an omelette with Bruscandoli and Carletti or Tarassaco and Ròsole boiled and then seasoned with butter or oil, and lemon or lard. These are authentic delicacies. 

And it’s not just the taste that makes them so appealing. Folk wisdom has it that these herbs have beneficial properties. Bruscandoli (wild hop shoots) is said to have invigorating, refreshing and diuretic properties. The Carletti (Bladder Campion) have long been believed to have a diuretic and liver purifying action. Rosole (poppy flowers) are rumoured to have purifying, calming, sedative, and analgesic properties. The Tarassaco is not only said to have anti-inflammatory properties, but is believed to be a panacea for diseases related to the liver. 

Bruscandoli, the wild hop sprouts

Bruscandoli collected by Reka Haros

Wild hops is a weed that prefers water. You will find them entangled in the bushes in the proximity of rivers, lakes and canals. Once you know how to recognize these herbs, you’ll see them everywhere. The best time to collect them is in April and May. But be careful to only collect the ones that don’t grow near field using pesticides and herbicides.

You should collect the tops with 10-15 cm of stem. Keep the top and the first pair of leaflets or, at most, the second pair of leaflets if they are tender; clean them under running water. Then cut them into 2-3 cm pieces to prepare them for cooking.

You can use them in soups, pasta, risotto, or omelettes, or by themselves wrapped in bacon. They can also be added to an egg-and-cheese pie. The most traditional herbed dish of Veneto is the Frittata di Bruscandoli. 

Frittata di Bruscandoli

Ingredients

4 eggs

1 bunch of bruscandoli 

1 onion

20g grated Grana Padano or Parmesan

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper as needed.

Instructions

Wash the bruscandoli and cut the tips (which will be the part to use).

Finely chop an onion.

Beat the eggs with the grated Grana Padano, then add a pinch of salt and pepper.

In a non-stick pan, add a couple of tablespoons of oil and fry the onion. After a few minutes, add the bruscandoli tips. Cover the pan and stew for five minutes over low heat.

Pour the previously beaten eggs into the pan. Cover with the lid and cook over medium-low heat until the top of the omelette has set.

Turn the omelette (with the help of the lid if necessary) and cook for another two to three minutes (without the lid).

Cut the omelette directly in the pan with a wooden spatula, and serve. 

Photos by Reka Haros

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