Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Ornithogalum at Sistina

By the way, I am going to put in as far as I can the addresses and phone numbers of restaurants and stores that I mention. It's not that I expect everybody to run right out to them; but when I read other people and want to try their suggestions or mentions and there is no contact information, I feel mildly put out.

This leads to my dinner the other night at one of my favorite restaurants, Sistina (1555 Second Ave.--80th & 81st Streets..NY...212 861 7660). lt belongs to Giuseppi Bruno one of a family of restaurant people. His brother owns San Pietro at 18 East 54th Street (212 753 9015).Their father makes extraordinary olive oil in the mezzo giorno of Italy. I was offered among a plethora of other daily specials wild asparagus. My foodie heart lept into the fray. Were they really wild asparagus I asked or were they the shorter season, more extraordinary Ornithogalum pyrenaicom. The waiter didn't have a clue as to what I was talking about. I asked him to bring me a raw bunch to the table. When they arrived, sure enought they were the slender, pale green stalks with heads like unopened hyacinths--ta da Ornithagalum. I ordered them and very good they were with nothing more than a little olive oil although Giuseppe serves them with melted cheese.

It took me several years to track down this wild vegetable--like asparagus--a member of the lily family. They are also related to Star of Bethlehem and hyacinths. Don't attempt to forage them; there are poisonous members of the family. When I was trying to discover what they were, several people suggested hop shoots which they do resemble. They are not asparagus, but altogether more tender and subtle. I have several recipes for them in Vegetable Love (see home page,

Had I known that they were vetaglia in Italian and Bath asparagus--for theEnglish spa town--as well as Prussian asparagus, I might have defined them sooner. It may be too late to buy them this year; but it's worth trying or keeping in mind for next year. Very thin asparagus that have been peeled can be substituted.

This is probably more than you ever wanted to know on the subject; but I am a nut and love the information.

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