Wild mountain spinach, or orapi, is one of the tastiest, but least known leafy greens from Abruzzo. For centuries, only the very poor women went harvesting for orapi. They climbed the mountain to look for free food to feed their families and make some pies with the greens for sale.
Often called the “herb from the cold”, wild spinach grows at high altitudes on mountain slopes and peaks at up to 2000 meters above sea level, rarely below 500 meters. It especially loves the spots fertilised by flocks of grazing sheep. Wild mountain spinach is harvested in May-June. Although shepherds and farmers in Abruzzo have been eating orapi for centuries, only recently have the tasty greens become quite popular with restaurateurs. This time of year, you can often spot people in the know climbing the steep slopes of the Gran Sasso and Majella mountains with big bags foraging for “green gold”, as wild spinach is called locally. Some forage for the family, others sell it to local restaurants.
In the Upper Sangro area of the L’Aquila Province, the heart of the Abruzzo National Park, shepherds and farmers always cooked “orapi e fasule”, orapi leaves and beans, a local staple dish that was a good substitute for meat. Wild spinach leaves have a strong robust flavour and are often added to rustic soups with cereals and legumes (rice, beans and orapi is a popular combination). Orapi are also eaten raw in simple salads, seasoned with salt and lemon juice.
Wild spinach is one of the most versatile greens you can harvest in the wild. I use them everywhere, from soups to hand-made pasta. Adding mashed orapi leaves to pasta gives it a deep green colour and looks amazing with white sauces. Use it as you would use conventional spinach, young tender leaves are best eaten raw, the bigger ones are better blanched for side dishes. I freeze blanched orapi, so we can enjoy them throughout the year. I do this with other greens that we forage in the area such as wild chicory or nettle, which I also use to substitute orapi to obtain different flavours and textures in soups or pasta dishes.
Find two quick and tasty recipes with wild spinach in the May issue of ABRUZZISSIMO Magazine. Click here to subscribe.
By Connie De Vincentis