When someone calls and tells you that they spent the morning picking wild greens along the banks of the Tiber in Umbria for you, you run, don’t walk, to that person’s side.
That happened last week when Salvatore Denaro gave me a call. Like all telephone conversations with Salvatore, it started in what seemed to be mid sentence. No ‘hello how are you’, just “There is some salad , actually wild greens, I picked them this morning you have to come get them.” Well, ok, I said, envisioning a quick trip up to Umbria.
So it was a nice surprise to find out that not only was Salvatore in Rome, he was also working in a restaurant here, two days week, and had a table waiting for me, complete with freshly picked greens.
I sometimes see these kinds of greens in the market, in Campo de’ Fiori. A mixture of chicories, wild herbs and other seasonal greens. They are ridiculously expensive because they are so very difficult to forage. Not only are they in out of the way places (along the banks of the Tiber in Umbria, for instance), they are difficult to identify. To the untrained eye they look like weeds.
Luckily, Salvatore’s eye is very well trained. Back in the kitchen he proudly showed me his bowl full of greens, that he had been carefully washing. Picking them up, one by one, he explained that they were a mixture of Caccia Lepre, Raponzolo and Crespigno which all are thriving this year do to the wet winter. He also promised to take me with him next week, for an intensive foraging lesson in the country.
But for now, we were in Rome, where he was soon bringing the bowl to the table, roots and all. After a bit more discussion (what grows where, which roots are edible, how to use them cooked as well) Sophie, Domenico and I were soon enjoying them with a simple dressing of olive oil, salt and just a bit of vinegar. Salvatore’s special touch was one slightly bruised clove of garlic.
While this incredible feast would have been enough, with crusty bread to accompany, Salvatore also treated us to his newest creation: Occhio di Bacco.
First of all the name. It is a play on the word ‘occhio di Bue’ which means Ox Eye and refers to a type of jam-filled shortbread cookie where the jam center looks kind of like the pupil of a big eye. Instead, Salvatore’s Occhio di Bacco (Bacco, or Bacchus, is his nickname) was made from one perfect braised artichoke standing straight up in a pool of fave bean pure.
The most brilliant pairing than no one had ever thought of, right?
You can find the recipe for the fave bean puree here.
And the recipe for Carciofo alla Romana here.
So please do try to recreate this at home. I certainly am.
The wild greens? Sorry, I don’t really have a recipe for that. That part really does depend on Salvatore’s eye. The real ones, not the artichoke ones.
Salvatore is consulting at Bacco in Trastevere. This is the permanent home of the summer restaurant I’ve written about in the past. He is usually there cooking, on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Bacco in Trastevere
Piazza di S. Giovanni della Malva