Today my father Rocco and I took my eldest two children Rocco and Natalia out foraging in the Bedfordshire countryside for what we refer to as ‘Vitochelle’. For as long as I can remember throughout the month of May we could always be found picking and foraging for what I suppose you would refer to as ‘Hops’ or ‘Wheat Grass’. This tradition was passed onto my father by his parents Giuseppe and Carmela, then onto me and now I’m showing my children. Nonna Carmela still has fond memories of picking these green serpents. Now we pick them and deliver them to her to cook.
From the first of May they can be found on the floor or leafy verges, but before you know it through the month of they then wind their way up the hedgerow. Twisting and turning as they go. Without fail I will always come home with a basket full of vitochelle and covered from top to toe with stinging nettle rashes, (I am know for never dressing appropriately).
I think they resemble a young asparagus with a slightly bitter taste. I simply snap off the first 6 inches or so. Once home I wash them well and treat them as you would an asparagus. Delicious fried off with a little oil, garlic and chili, fried off and layered into a frittata or pickled. Just delicious. I love frying them off and turning them into a spring pesto that can then be used throughout the month. Spooned through pasta or risotto, spread through a panino or layered onto a bruschetta and topped with Parma ham. Lots of possibilities. However here is my ‘Vitochelle Pesto’.
1 large garlic clove
Small bunch Fresh Basil leaves
Salt to season
Olive Oil as required
- Pan fry the vitochelle for 5 minutes in a little extra virgin olive oil. You can substitute the green serpents for asparagus if you prefer.
- Once pan-fried place the vitochelle into a food processor along with the pine-nuts (un-toasted), grated Parmesan, garlic, basil, 2 tbsp. olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Blitz for 10 seconds.
- Now add the remaining olive oil and blitz until you have a dropping consistency. Taste and season accordingly. I would normally use extra virgin olive oil to make pesto as I do love the peppery notes, however the vitochelle are a little bitter so fully benefit from a lighter olive oil.
- Store in a sterilized jar for up to 30 days in the fridge. Keep the pesto topped up with olive oil and remember no double dipping.