Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Strange vegetables


Thirty years ago, when I first came to live in Italy, the food you could get here - whether in shops or in restaurants - was 100% Italian. There were no ethnic supermarkets, the main supermarkets stocked only Italian products and though an Indian restaurant did open shortly after I arrived, it closed again about six months later because of lack of custom. Coming from an already cosmopolitan country like Britain, it was rather a shock. (Though nowadays as I pass the McDonalds which dot the city at about a hundred yards from each other, I do sometimes feel somewhat nostalgic).

Needless to say, things have changed and Milan is now as cosmopolitan as anywhere else, with a large migrant population. Plus the fact that increased opportunities for travel have meant that the Milanese too are more open to foreign food. Ethnic restaurants and supermarkets abound, and in the last couple of years even mainstream chains have started to cater for non-Italian tastes. You want yams or fresh coriander? Basmati rice or baked beans? Just pop into your local supermarket.

Recently though I've found a couple of things which are not particularly "ethnic" but which I'd still never come across before. The first were banana shallots. The one in the photo was nearly 7 inches long.



Checking on the Internet it didn't seem to be particularly unusual, so you may be wondering what the fuss is about. But I'd certainly never seen them before. I cooked them in a pasta sauce instead of onions, and roasted. Both ways worked well - they have a nice, mild flavour, but don't really seem much different to ordinary shallots.

The other vegetable though has really got me stumped. The Italian name on the label on the market stall was spigoli - roughly translated as "jutting out corners", which is presumably a reference to the bits in the middle. But an Internet search produced nothing.


I cooked it in a very small quantity of water and oil, not even sure which bit or bits I was supposed to eat. The green bits were nice, but nothing special. Just greens. The white spikes in the middle were a bit bitter, but OK. I'm not sure I'd bother to get it again - there are other greens which I like better. But it was curious. Has anyone ever come across it? Or even grown it?

12 comments:

Vanillalotus said...

Weird vegetables. I have never heard or tried either of them. Maybe someone else knows. I think that is interesting about Milan having only italian food many years ago. Where my parents live it was much the same way but now they have the mcdonalds and pizza hut and some american food in a little isle at the store.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

That's freaky - you're a much braver cook than I. No clue what it is & never seen it around here. Are there any Mexican restaurants in Milan? That was the only food I craved when I was going to school in Rome 20 years ago. Couldn't find a single Mexican restaurant anywhere in Europe then.

ourfriendben said...

Goodness, Sue, these are eye-opening! Like you, I've never encountered either. I'm not surprised that the banana shallots are much like ordinary shallots, as elephant garlic is just a bigger, milder version of garlic. But the other one! I hope someone chimes in who knows what it is and how to use it--I'm intrigued!

Layanee said...

Very interesting! Kudos to you for giving the oddities a try!

Frances, said...

Sue, the fairies say that the green stuff is one of their favorites, eaten raw, naturally. But the name was a word that could not be made sense of, coming out something like the whooshing sound a bird makes as it flies close to accidentally, or maybe that is a fairy! Thanks for your kind offer and make the fairy beds, you will be getting some visitors, and be sure and have their favorite food, we'll call it 'whoosh' on hand. ;->
Frances at Faire Garden

Sue Swift said...

Frances - whoosh it is, until anyone comes up with the human name :)
Mr McM's D - yes, plenty of Mexican here now. Just about any type of food in fact. Milan has changed a lot ...
Thank you to all of you for your comments. Only the fairy identification so far, but if we find out more I'll let you know!

Nancy said...

A very interesting looking plant...have you been able to find a recipe that references it?

Cheryl said...

As a vegetarian I eat a lot of vegetables. I have eaten banana shallots but have never seen or heard of the other strange veggie.
Interesting.

Yolanda Elizabet said...

Fun veggies Sue! Like you I always like to try out new things and have discovered many a tasy fruit or veg that way. Can't help you with the spigoli as I've never heard of it before, let alone tried it. :-)

Cory said...

The green vegetable looks like puntarelle. Serve cold with anchovy sauce, yummy.

Sue Swift said...

Thank you Cory. You're right. If anyone wants to know more or find recipes, just Google puntarelle.

LaWoodstock said...

I love this vegetable!! I call them "puntarelle", not spigoli, but that's the same. I cut and wash the small parts inside, then I put them in cold water with a table spoon of good oil. $ minutes after boiling I drain them and put in a pan with a table spoon of oil, a small hot pepper and a smashed anchovy. YUMMY!!! :)

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