- Sfouggato literally means ‘resembling a sponge in texture’. The word is derived from the ancient Greek spoggia σπογγιά (also Attic sfoggia σφογγιά) = spoggos = sponge. The word spoggia is the source of the Latin sfongia in the Apicius’ recipe ‘Ova sfongia ex lacte’ (sponge eggs with milk). This Roman sponge- egg dish seems to be the forerunner of the Byzantine sfungaton and modern Greek sfouggato, names for an omelet. Beaten eggs are fried, baked or cooked with sliced vegetables (zucchinis or artichokes or eggplants or okras or fresh fava beans or potatoes or mushrooms and/or onions or lettuce or spinach etc.) or chopped wild greens, or chicken livers or lamb innards, or small fishes or cheese… the choice is unlimited. Flour is occasionally added to absorb excess liquid. The vegetable or meat-ingredients are sautéed or cooked and the eggs are poured over them in the pan or in the casserole.
- Of course, a basic ingredient for this omelet is the shoot of asphodel. Asphodel is the ancient Greek asphodelos, a plant sacred to the Chthonic deities and Persephoni, the young daughter of godess Demeter, who was forcefully taken to the underwold by Pluto. The asphodel also filled the gloomy, shadowy meadows of Hades, the ancient Greek underworld. According to Homer, the disembodied spirits of common dead dwell (Od. 24,14) in the field of these fragrant pale yellow flowers, weeping, wandering around like phantoms (Od. 11.391, 475–476, 605-606; 24.5–9), being confused like dreams (10.495; 11.207–208, 222). Only the heroes, certain people who deserved an afterlife reward for their perfect behavior while alive and the bad guys have different destinations. The heroes- except those going to Olympus- and the exceptional mortals enter to the Elysian Fields, where life is easy and there is the cool refreshing breeze of the West wind. Of course the bad guys are assigned to an unending punishment in Tartarus.
- As asphodel was regarded the favourite food of the dead, the ancient Greeks planted it near graves.
- The asphodels belong to two similar genera of the family of Liliaceae: Asphodelus and Asphodeline. The ancient asphodel with the pale yellow flowers which was associated with the Chthonic deities and the fields of the dead, is the Asphodeline lutea, a rhizomatous perennial. Asphodelus aestivus is the common asphodel. Both species populate the eastern Mediterranean region, flowering in April – June. And yes, the roots and shoots of Asphodeline lutea and Asphodelus aestivus are edible.
- Hesiod (W. & D., 41), described asphodel as the basic ingredient of a poor man’s pulp. Hippocrates and Dioscorides said that the roots were eaten roasted in ashes.Theophrastus stated that the chopped root was mashed with figs and the shoot was consumed fried. The Byzantine lexicographer Hesychius (s.v. asphodelos) also stated that asphodel’s root is edible.
- Until the end of World War II, the starchy roots saved many Greeks from hunger in times of extreme povery.
- In folk culinary tradition of Crete, Southern Peloponnese and some Agean islands the asphodel is involved in several local dishes. The tender shoots are consumed like wild asparagus and bryony: they are cooked with olive oil, lemon and flour or with lamb or potatoes or eggs etc.
SFOUGGATO WITH ASPHODELS (Σφουγγάτο με ασφόδελους)
I used some frozen shoots that I had harvested in early summer. The procedure for preparing some fresh ones is the following: incise the peels of the fresh shoots, boil the inner parts for 1 minute and soak them in cold water for 3 hours because are somewhat bitter.
1 cup tender shoots, chopped into 3 cm lengths
1 tbs chopped onion
2 eggs lightly beaten
2 tbs evaporated milk
4 tbs olive oil, or more according to your own taste, if you’ll fry sfouggato; 2 tbs, if you’ll bake it
Mix the eggs with the milk. Gently sauté the shoots and the onions in 2 tbs olive oil. Add the other 2 tbs olive oil and pour the beaten eggs over them. Salt and pepper to taste and cook, tightly covered, until the eggs are set.
If you’ll bake the sfouggato: oil the bottom of a small baking pan, cover it with the onions and shoots and carefully pour in the eggs. Salt to taste. Remove when well browned and sprinkle with pepper. Serve warm.
The shoots should be crisp and slightly bitter.