Traditional Foods of Puglia Italy-Cooking Lampascioni Hyacinth Bulbs

In the market in Syracuse we came across a traditional food that is common in Puglia, though less so here in Sicily – muscari comosumlampascioni.  Similar in appearance to little onions, lampascioni are actually the bulb of a tassel hyacinth, the muscari comosum.  These are a common wildflower especially in southern Italy, though few people realize that you can eat the bulb.  Lampascioni are a classic example of Italian peasant cuisine, using free ingredients combined with a fair amount of labor and know-how to  turn an odd edible food into a delectable dish.  Or so we hoped.

Emanuele remembers lampascioni from his childhood in Puglia, though he remembers little of how his Pugliese mother prepared them, other than “cutting a cross in the bottom.”  I remember eating lampascioni that had been preserved in vinegar and oil as an antipasto in Puglia, but neither of us had ever cooked them.

lampascioni hyacinth bulbsThough it felt like we were cheating to buy the lampascioni rather than dig them up, we decided it was worth it to try them out (and since this wild hyacinth is already blooming in our fields, we have the excuse that it is too late to dig them up anyway.) 

Emanuele began to clean them and was soon grossed out by the clear sticky liquid that came oozing out of each lampascione.  Sound unappetizing? It gets worse. 

We decided the sticky substance must have a scientific name, and settled on “goo”. Peeling the lampascioni with this goo oozing out makes everything stick to your hands – dirt, peel, roots, and, soon, fingers against fingers.  This is what I imagine it’s like working in a glue factory, only dirtier.  

sticky goo on lampascioni

“Che schifo”- how revolting, said Emanuele in disgust as he got fed up trying to clean them, and decided to toss the rest of the lampascioni into the garbage –  I rescued the bulbs and planted them in a corner of the garden. If all else fails, we should have some pretty tassel hyacinths next spring.

Emanuele decided to boil the cleaned bulbs for a short while, after which he put them – still oozing goo – into a bowl and stared at them, trying to will the goo to go away.  This proved ineffective. 

Since Emanuele’s older sisters had spent much of their childhood in Puglia and learned to cook from their pugliese mother, I decided it was time for a lampascioni conference call.  After much discussion, in which both sisters corroborated the story of the cross cut, I decided to follow this procedure:

1. The lampascioni had already been cleaned and parboiled for 15 minute. Cut a cross in the root base of each bulb – work quickly as lots more goo will start seeping out of the cross cut. tassel hyacinth bulb lampascioni

2. Put the lampascioni in a large bowl of water.  Change the water 3 times a day for 2 days. The water had a slimy texture (that goo again), so I rinsed the lampascioni in a colander each time I changed the water. 

3. In a stainless steel pot, make a mixture of ½ vinegar and ½ water that will amply cover the lampscioni bulbs.  (I  used my very strong homemade red wine vinegar, so used less vinegar.  Red wine vinegar will lend a  pinkish color to the lampascioni.) Bring to a boil with the lampascioni and let simmer 20 minutes, skimming off any foam.

4. Drain the lampascioni in a colander and rinse well in running water. Make another batch of water/vinegar (or just plain water if you like them less vinegary- this is what I did.)

5. Simmer the lampascioni for another 20-30 minutes until they are tender when pierced with a fork, but still hold their shape. They are resilient little buggers, so it’s hard to overcook them. This is also a dish which is impossible to make if there is water shortage.

6. Drain the cooked lampascioni and rinse well. Pat dry of excess water.  There should now be no more goo seeping out of the lampascioni-hurray!

7. Put the goo-free lampascioni in a serving bowl. Like most edible things, they will immediately be improved by a good dousing of extra virgin olive oil.  Add salt.  Timidly taste. If they need more vinegar, add a teaspoon or two. The bulbs themselves will have a mildly bitter taste which is pleasantly countered by the vinegar and oil. If they are very bitter, you did not do a good job of getting rid of that bitter goo, and should reconsider using lampascioni in their blooming stage as decorative flowers only.

I brought my bowl of lampascioni to a family lunch in Sicily, where Emanuele’s sister Elisa was the guinea pig.  I was thrilled that she proclaimed the lampascioni to be “buonissimi! “ After eating several, she then said she would add a bit more vinegar.

So, all in all the gooey lampascioni mess was a success!  “Si”, Emanuele agreed, who reluctantly ate one, then looked relieved that they tasted okay and ate a few more -“sono buoni”.  But next time, he swore, you can find someone else to clean them.

lampascioni pronti

Cooked lampascioni, dressed with vinegar and oil, are ready to eat.

57 Responses to “ Traditional Foods of Puglia Italy-Cooking Lampascioni Hyacinth Bulbs ”

My husband likes all “Things” pickled and my sister Sheila frequently gives him a basket of various products for Christmas and birthday. This year a jar of lampascioni was in the mix. We tried to work out what it was from the picture on the label, possibly some type of onion. However, from the taste it seemed unlikely, so I Googled it to find out what the tasty little morsel was. Hyacinth would have been last on my list of possibilities. Sheil buys all these products from Gaganis a warehouse in Adelaide, Sth Australia.

Anita, My grandparents were from Scala Coeli, and I learned to like these when I was a little girl. Unfortunately haven’t been able to find them in about 10 years. If I do locate some, do you have a recipe how to can them in jars? Thank you

This si probably a habit of a particular area of Sicily. For instacne, no one picks them here in the Ragusa area. I enjoyed your story.

As the time of year when lampascione are harvested nears ,I would like to know where in the USA you can purchsae them ? We cook them in their natural state. an old reciepe from Casalvechio Di Pulgia. any effort to help me is greatly appreciated.Grazie E.Pellegrini

It has taken me so long to find the name of these onions! My family also called them cippolini. My grandma, she was from Monteleone di Puglia, made them with veal, pieces of hard sausage and tomato and baked them in the oven. It was delicious.

My parents are from Calabria and Lampascione were a staple our Christmas Eve dinner. In our dialect from a small paese near the city of Crotone we called them “Cippudruzzi” or small onions. but we know that they are not an Onion at all. You people are all over thinking the preparation of them. You made a big deal about the “goo” and cleaning them but that is no problem. Clean them as best you can by removing the outer skin. Wash your hands periodically during the cleaning to get rid of the “goo.” After cleaning make a couple of cross cuts as mentioned above and boil gently for a few minutes in some water to tenderize. Then drain and saute in a genererous amount of Olive Oil, salt to taste and add lots of ground chili pepper. The are spicy hot and they are the food of the Gods! Eat with your favorite Calabrese meat dish or “Tiella di Bacala on Christmas Eve! They are the greatest food in world! An earthy flavour that is to die for. If I had to pick something for my last meal on earth it would be Cippudruzzi with my moms homemade Calabrese bread and some Raspy, robust Red Wine!! I am awaiting for my order of Lampascione to fly in from Toronto this week. They may cost over $14.00 lb but I would pay almost anything for these delectible morsels. Viva Calabria!!

My parents are from Calabria and Lampascione were a staple our Christmas Eve dinner. In our dialect from a small paese near the city of Crotone we called them \\


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