Lampascioni from Puglia, the bitter taste of life

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The first bite into a lampascione from Puglia becomes a indelible memory. When, many years ago, I was invited to a wedding in Putignano, I could not imagine that I would discover a delicacy as simple as it’s refined. Although they are not easily available outside of Puglia, lampascioni were already known to the ancient Egyptians, as well as the ancient Greeks and Romans, who considered them aphrodisiacs because of their body heating qualities. Galenus of Pergamum, a doctor who lived between 129 and 216 d. C., wrote “in reality only those called royal are aphrodisiac, and they are superior to the others, particularly the reddish ones. Instead the white ones and those from Libya are similar to scilla; the worst of all, however, are the Egyptian ones “.

History and curiosity

To find the bulbs you have to dig deep. Who knows what Oribasio, Greek physician of Byzantium, was thinking when he decided to call it lampascione, which translates into ancient Latin as lampadio, lampiadonis and, more recently, as lamp. The question remains as to why the name refers to an object that did not yet exist at the time. However, a little mystery makes every food tastier.
Given the illustrious history of these red bulbs it is no surprise that they are so highly recognized and appreciated on the tables. However, what still today remains unexplained is the reason why, although the ancient Romans made great use of them, they have not spread beyond Southern Italy.

lampascioni alla pugliese

There are fifty varieties of lampascione and seven are found in Puglia, namely in Salento, where the gastronomic tradition is more deeply rooted. Every end of March in Acaya, in the province of Lecce, the bulbs become the main players in the celebrations in honour of the Madonna dei Lampascioni, while the Confraternita del Pampascione (another way to call the lampascione) is in charge of studying, experimenting and recovering the Salento cooking traditions connected to the “king of the bulbs”.

How to prepare lampascioni in the Puglian style?

As they grow underground, they may seem strong and resistant, but good quality lampascioni require only manual processing. The traditional cooking method is to put them under the ashes and, once cleaned, simply seasoned with olive oil, vinegar and pepper. However, it’s when fried, that they exude their typical fiery and brash Puglian character.
With characteristic bitter taste, much celebrated by raving enthusiasts; they are a perfect match for sausages and kidskin dishes, giving a mouthful of unrivalled pleasure.
In spring and summer you lampascioni are found in the flat countryside where they grow and amongst the gracious purple fluffy flowers. One of the strengths of lampascione is to whet your appetite: could it be the reason why they are so widely used on the Lucullian Puglian tables?
Try the lampascioni in the Food Box Puglia Aperitif food box, You will taste the sun, the sea and all the flavours of Salento, a land suspended between two seas, which promises days full of beauty and taste.

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