Bring the Spring to your table: the best seasonal ingredients

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Spring has finally arrived in Italy – bringing with it sunny, longer days – and its delicious produce is finding its way onto our tables and into the kitchen. The fresh and delicate flavours result in some fantastic recipes, and green is definitely the colour of the season, along with white and red – just like the Italian flag. A walk to the market instantly reveals spring's key players – artichokes (at least some varieties), peas, broad beans and asparagus are shown off on the stalls, often arranged in choreographic ways. Spring onions – both the white and purple kind – add their flavours to seasonal recipes, while a range of wild herbs and greens such as borage, cress, wild chicory, edible burdock and other oddly named local varieties turn salads and contorni (what we usually call side dishes in Italy) into wonderful, flavourful things. Each of these ingredients can be cooked and eaten on their own, or they can combine together in all sorts of traditional regional dishes.


In Italy there are many varieties of artichokes with different seasons, but spring is definitely the best time to eat the delicious Mammole, as the local IGP protected artichokes are called in Rome and throughout Lazio. Mammole are big, round artichokes; tender and with no spurs, they are perfect in vignarola but also the tasty carciofi alla matticella, as they are famously cooked in the Velletri area near Rome. The whole, cleaned artichokes are seasoned with fresh garlic, salt, extra virgin olive oil and Roman mint (lesser calamint or field balm) and then cooked on top of a fire made from matticelle; small bundles made of trimmed vines.


From the precious large white asparagus typical of northern Italy to the skinny and super tasty wild ones growing in the central Italian countryside, spring is definitely the season for this delicious vegetable. They are eaten all over Italy in different ways but are mostly used to make wonderful risottos or omelettes. Eggs and cheese (especially fried eggs with grated Parmesan) are their best friends.


A dash of colour amongst the green and white on the market's stalls in spring, Italian radishes have a round shape and a brilliant crimson colour. They grow from March to the end of summer and are usually eaten raw, added to salads for their peculiar, sharp flavour. The small leaves can be eaten, too; they are full of flavour and nutrients and can be used to make omelettes, salads and pesto sauces.

Spring onions

A sweeter and delicate alternative to ‘common’ onions, in Italian markets the small and white round bulbs are accompanied by the purple and slender spring onions from Tropea. These have a much milder flavour and are perfect to give sweetness to salads (when raw) and cooked recipes. The long, slender green tops are also edible when finely cut into small rings.

Wild fennel

Mainly found growing in the south of the country, wild fennel is a perennial herb belonging to the same family of the regular white bulbs usually eaten raw or cooked. Throughout spring the tender tiny leaves can also be used to season cooked recipes or added raw to salads. In Sicily they are also used to make a delicious pesto with almonds and extra virgin olive oil, or the traditional rolled omelette called pisci r'uovo(‘fish egg’) for its oblong shape.

Asparagus, pecorino and lemon risotto

  • 600g fine asparagus spears
  • 1.2 litres fresh light chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 15g butter
  • 100g (about 4) finely chopped shallots
  • 225g risotto rice such as arborio
  • 4 tbsp dry white wine
  • 1 large fresh mint sprig, leaves picked
  • 2 tbsp double cream
  • Finely grated zest ½ lemon
  • 50g finely grated pecorino (or vegetarian alternative), plus extra for serving
  1. Cut or snap off the woody ends from each asparagus spear but don’t discard them – cut them in half lengthways. Put the stock and
  2. Halved asparagus ends in a pan, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes to extract all the flavour. Strain the flavoured stock into a clean pan and discard the bits left in the sieve. Keep hot over a low heat.
  3. Cut the tips (about 3cm long) off the asparagus spears and set to one side. Roughly chop the stalks, drop them into a pan of lightly salted water and cook for 6-8 minutes until very tender. Lift out with a slotted spoon into a colander, drain well, then tip into a food processor and blend to a smooth purée. Set aside. Drop the asparagus tips into the boiling water and cook for 2-3 minutes until just tender. Drain, refresh under cold water, then dry well on kitchen paper.
  4. Heat the oil and butter in a medium-size pan, add the shallots and stir over a medium heat for 5-6 minutes until soft but not browned. Add the rice and stir well until all the grains are coated in the oil and butter.
  5. Add the white wine and simmer gently, stirring, until it has been absorbed. Add a ladleful of the hot stock and stir until all the stock has been absorbed before adding another ladleful. Continue this way for about 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently, until the rice is creamy and tender, but still has a little bit of bite. You might not need to use all the stock.
  6. Shortly before the risotto is cooked, finely chop the mint leaves (don’t chop them sooner or the pieces will turn black at the edges). Stir the asparagus purée into the risotto with the cream, lemon zest, mint and pecorino, followed by three quarters of the asparagus tips. Spoon the risotto into warmed deep plates, scatter the rest of the tips on top of each plate and shave over a little more pecorino to serve. 

Enjoy it!

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