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 Lazio, vignarola is a traditional spring vegetable soup made with spring onions, artichokes, broad beans and peas, with some thinly sliced pancetta or guanciale to contrast with the sweetness of the vegetables. The soup – whose name supposedly comes from the fact that these vegetables once grew in between the grape vines – is usually served warm with bread. Nowadays many cooks also create a ‘dry’ version of it to prepare a tasty pasta dish, often enriched with grated Pecorino.