I met a girlfriend on the street the other day in Sant’Agata dei Goti. Caterina was carrying two big plastic bags. I asked her what they were and discovered that she was taking some greens from her garden to an old lady living down the road. In one bag was the ubiquitous broccoli raab, which in Campania is called simply broccoletti. In the other was what looked like a heap of weeds. Caterina’s family owns land that produces grapes for the Mustilli winery and her mother – from the generation that lived through the vagaries of war – always picks the edible weeds in the garden; and in the first warm days of early spring, still roams the fields in search of that wonder of wonders: wild vegetables or le verdure di campo.
We oohed and aahed a little while about wild greens and then went our separate ways. Next day however, my doorbell rang and Caterina appeared with two even bigger, bulging bags, both filled with the same delightful assortment I admired the day before.
I happen to have a weak spot when it comes to wild weeds because no other vegetable can compare to the green, bittersweet, ancient taste of this mixture. Furthermore wild edible plants define the term ‘fresh’: they must be cooked as soon as they are picked because they begin to wither immediately. It’s not often one gets a chance to get a bagful of this stuff and I was so thrilled that I had to take pictures. As Caterina explained how to clean them, I put a big pot of water on the stove. As the water came to a boil I threw a handful of sale grosso together with the greens, cooked them for five minutes, strained them and voilà, done. They can be eaten all’agro with a little olive oil and lemon, or ripassate in padella (pan-fried) with garlic, oil and peperoncino, or pancotto by adding cubed pieces of dried bread. Added to beaten eggs it makes a mean frittata.
One day I hope meet Caterina’s mother so that she can teach me how to identify the edible herbs: ortica, cicoria, piscialetto (literally bed-wetter or dandelion), asparagi, radichiello, borragine and cardillo from the inedible ones; and when I do, I promise to organize a field day for food lovers, so that the next time you’re walking through a grassy field you’ll be able to do more then just pluck a few flowers, but to be able to pick and delight in these delectable edible weeds.