Sunday 1 April 2012

Eggs and asparagus, Istrian-style

You might not think there's a lot to say about eggs and asparagus that hasn't already been written but then you probably haven't been to the northern part of Croatia that's known as Istria at this time of year. (No, nor had I.)

Over the three days we were there we had it three times - each served slightly differently. The most popular way to cook it is simply to saute the asparagus in a little olive oil then add some lightly beaten, seasoned eggs but it tasted like no other scrambled eggs - or asparagus - that I've ever eaten.

That's partly because the asparagus is wild with a more herbal, bitter taste than you get at home, partly due to the intensely grassy, green olive oil and partly the eggs which were super-fresh with deep yellow yolks. I reckon the best way to replicate the taste would be with the fine asparagus called sprue, maybe adding a small handful of shredded wild rocket.

Another way to serve it is with a chopped egg sauce and some fried ham or bacon as we did at a restaurant called Nono in Umag.

What's great about the dish is that it's so seasonal, made out of ingredients any smallholding had to hand or could forage for themselves. The period from now until May 1st is celebrated as 'Istrian asparagus days' - asparagus is regarded as an aphrodisiac and a protection against snakes, according to the website Colours of Istria. "Apparently, if you eat the raw tip of the first asparagus you pick at the beginning of the harvesting season, you will be safe from snakes in the forest for the rest of the season." Which must be a relief.

What I particularly like about this promotion is that the Croatians are perfectly happy to put a humble dish like scrambled eggs on a menu at a smart restaurant. Why to goodness can't we?


Nikki said...

Love it! Delicious and simple! There are so many great restaurants all over Croatia that follow this idea of doing their traditional foods (however humble some may be) really well. Thanks for sharing this yummy Istrian meal!

Fiona Beckett said...

Great, isn't it? We've lost sight of this a bit in the UK

The Bocking Kellys said...

Very interesting. Am taking the family to Istria in the first week of June. We've never been to Croatia before so would love any tips you could share. What's the local wine like?

Fiona Beckett said...

It's more of a white wine place than a red but that makes sense in a seafood-eating country. Most are based on the local grape malvazija and are delicious. There's also a good local red called Teran. I was really impressed by how local and seasonal the food was - perhaps less in the large hotels so explore the small coastal and country restaurants

A said...

Hi there! Nice post, btw have you been picking asparagus too? That's like a regional hobby in spring here in Istria...
If I may add, except for the eggs and asparagus, olive oil is the third unomittable ingredient!

Speaking of wine, I agree the malvasia is the most known product, and that white wines give their best here, but I have been surprised (just few weeks ago) by a red one produced by Radovan in north Istria - a fantastic refosco (or refosk). If anybody is more into reds, I suggest the region around Nova Gorica in Slovenia, less than an hour drive from Istria.