Livertin…Foraging for Food

Fresh green shoots climbing up last year’s dried vines…

Our Sunday excursion didn’t begin as a quest for food…well it did, but not wild food.  We wanted to take a walk and the sun had finally come out after some heavy rain.  We also wanted to pick up a smoked trout from an agriturismo we had heard about from a friend.  The agriturismo was closed but the walk was nice and as we strolled along the road we noticed vines of Livertin had started popping up, time to pick!

Emi and Ippo, ready to pick?

Livertin is Piemontese for Lupolo, or wild hops.  A green vine that grows like crazy in the fields around our home, picking it is a right of spring for us.  Just as it starts to sprout, we pluck the tender green tips.  Once it really starts to take off, it climbs trees and forms dense vine covers, tangled in with blackberries and stinging nettles at the edge of fields.  It’s not much fun to forage about at that point but early in the season we take advantage of the fact that the nettles that keep the livertin company are young and tender, and pick them too.

Nettles and livertin are a great combination if you ever get the chance to try them. Where I grew up we had plenty of nettles but no livertin.  There are two ways you can pick nettles without being stung.  One is obvious, use a glove!  The second method it to carefully break them off just under the leaves which is what we do.  It’s the leaves that sting, not the stem.  Why don’t we use gloves?  It is just as easy to pick without them and picking the hops with a glove is awkward,   Since we are harvesting them at the same time…gloves on…gloves off…tedious.

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Mauro is an expert picker.

The first time I went hunting for Livertin was the year Mauro and I were married, 2000.  As soon as they began sprouting, Maria and Pino, my in-laws, asked if we wanted to come too….why not?  They showed me where to look and how to pluck the green tip from the plant and between the four of us we had a couple of large bags filled in no time flat. Every year since then I have wandered the fields every April, except in 2007, when I gave birth to Emanuele and I was too big and clumsy to want to wander around bumpy ground, bend over and pick.  Emi was born on  April 13th.

Once you have picked your Livertin, (and or nettles) what do you do?  To wash them, Maria always added baking soda to the water.  I must admit for the first time ever, this year, I omitted it and didn’t notice any difference so what it is supposed to do, I have no idea.

Ready to cook…

Livertin is a green with a lightly tannic and fairly delicate flavor.  Boil or steam it for a few minutes and dress it with salt, extra virgin olive oil and some vinegar or lemon juice, hot or cold it is delicious. If you boil it, don’t throw out the liquid, drink it! Italians will often do a “spring cure” with livertin or nettle tea, to boost their immune systems and detox their livers…nutritionists say livertin can help you sleep better too.  I don’t find it very tasty but you can always add a little honey.

The first small harvest of livertin this year was turned into a frittata.  I cooked the hops with stinging nettle and a bit of borage from our garden,  Eggs, beaten with some grated Parmesan, it was part of a tasty dinner.

One of Mauro’s favorite recipes with livertin is minestrina which mean “little soup.” You can make minestrina from anything and it’s fast because whatever veggies you put in it are chopped into small bits.   With this batch we use the pre-cooked livertin and nettles and their cooking liquid was used as the base with the addition of some extra water.

Mauro’s Livertin Minestrina

In a small bowl mash 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and 1 tablespoon of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano per person.  It should be a thick paste.

Dice a peeled potato into small pieces.  Just a couple of tablespoons per person.  Add them to:

1 cup of boiling vegetable broth per person…and cook for 5 minutes.  Once boiling add 2 Tablespoons of pastina per person.  Pastina is any small pasta, we often use farfalline or orzo.

Boil for whatever the recommended cooking time is for the pasta, stirring occasionally since pastina often gravitates to the bottom of the pot and sticks.  We would add the precooked livertin at the end.  

Chopped Livertin and nettles…

You could add some finely chopped spinach in lieu of livertin. Add the Parmesan paste, mix well, add salt and pepper to taste and dish it up.  This is fast, healthy and easy.

I am curious to know whether anyone who reads this has wild hops growing in their area and if you do, have ever eaten it?  If not…give it a try.

Buon Appetito!

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