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Foraging for Risotto

Between April showers and March thunderstorms, you'll find us in the fields picking sciopetin. Here's our risotto recipe.


Picking Sciopetin leaves in a green field

Foraged plants and funghi play an important part in Italy's food culture as a celebration of each season. Spring seems to come earlier and earlier each year in Italy and as soon as it does, we're scouring the fields for tiny sciopetin shoots.


Man picking wild herbs in a field behind an Italian house

Seeing as the tradition of picking from the land gets handed down through families, ancient dialect names tend to stick through the years. Where we live, the plant Silene Vulgaris is called sciopetin from the dialect word sciopar - meaning to burst because of the bell-shaped seed pops that pop open in summer from this particular wild flower. Around Venice, the same herb is called carletti, that's what Francesco's granny calls it and that's what you'll find in the local springtime vegetable markets if you don't have time to spend picking or fields to pick in.


Cleaning wild herbs to make risotto on a wooden table

Only the top shoots and lower leaves are used when cooking with sciopetin and there are many different dishes you can these in. Frittata is wonderfully quick and delicious, as is a pesto you can make the traditional way with pine nuts, olive oil and Parmigiano or Grana Padano. Risotto is Francesco's speciality so that's what we always make first!


Think of sciopetin or carletti as a delicate spinach flavour, you need quite a bit to make a 4 person risotto - about 300g of curati leaves. I love the word curare to describe the job of getting food ready to be cooked.


You can curare funghi but gently brushing off the soil and trimming any unwanted bits, you can curare fish by removing the innards and descaling the skin and you curare strawberries by washing them and removing the leaves. Curare is translated as 'to cure' in English, but also means 'to take care of'.


I think it beautifully describes the love and appreciation of good food we've taken time to harvest, maybe grown ourselves or found at the market. Usually it's the elderly nonne who's job it is to curare. They have time, patience and a chair placed outside in the sunshine.


Sciopetin leaves ready to cook in a blue bowl on a wooden table.

Read up on our blog post on how to make good risotto, there's an established Italian trick called La Mantecatura which takes a little time but makes all the difference!


If you know your foraged plants well, feel free to use whatever you have in your fields, forests and garden. Wild garlic is delicious, as are nettles and anything safely forageable. It goes without saying to only harvest what you know.


Risotto coi Sciopetin in a white plate

Recipe for Risotto Coi Sciopetin/Carletti


Ingredients for 4 people


500 g Foraged Herbs

360 g Risotto Rice

1 Chopped White Onion 

80 g Butter

½ Glass of White Wine

1 Litre Boiling Vegetable Broth

Black Pepper

50 g grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano


Preparation


  1. After collecting the herbs, keep the top 4 leaves with the top shoot and any other leaves below this, discard the thicker stem. These should weigh 200 - 300 g. Wash in cold water making sure to remove any insects and dirt.

  2. Sauté the chopped onion in a deep pan 30g butter until soft and translucent.

  3. Add the risotto rice and when it sizzles, pour in the wine.

  4. Let the alcohol cook off whilst stirring gently and then add 500 ml of broth. 

  5. Stir in the foraged leaves and keep gently stirring as the rice absorbs the liquid.

  6. After about 20 minutes, bite into a grain of rice and if it is still hard in the centre, add more broth and stir.

  7. When the rice is cooked through, add half a ladle of broth and switch off the heat.

  8. Using a spoon, vigorously stir in the remaining butter, black pepper and Grana Padano until creamy. (See La Mantecatura). Let the risotto sit for one minute and then stir again just before serving.


Cook’s Notes

Keep a pot of simmering stock beside the risotto pan so you can easily ladle stock into the risotto while you cook. You can use stock cubes or make your own vegetable stock by boiling an onion, celery stick and carrot in a large put of salted water. It is important the stock is boiling when you add it to the risotto in order not to slow the cooking.

Stir very gently while the rice cooks. It is not necessary to constantly stir, just make sure the rice does not dry up and stick to the pan. 

You can keep the cleaned sciopetin/carletti in the fridge for 3 days, if longer, blanche them in boiling water and keep up to a week or freeze them for further use.


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