'Under the snow, bread': so goes an Italian ancient popular peasant saying.
The earth, protected all winter, reawakens luxuriantly with the first heat.
Spring in Belgium is announced by the appearance of wonderful asparagus (in Malines you'll find some of the very best ones) and this extraordinary, little-known shoot called jet de houblon.
Hold on tight: it's the most expensive vegetable in the world.
Underground buds expand from the rhizome (the root bulb) and have a shape which is vaguely reminiscent of bean sprouts. They are about 20 centimetres long, but the edible part does not measure more than 5-6 centimetres. No more than 25 grams can be obtained from each plant. The harvest is meticulous, annoying and tough, as it is carried out by kneeling on the cold, damp earth. There are only nine reckless harvesters across the nation; many others hoe the crops to strengthen the plants without grasping them. The season lasts only one tiny month.
They are rare and ephemeral, demanding and sensitive, fragile. And they only last one day. As haughty as Coco Chanel, they cannot stand the sun; they are generally bought at auctions.
Hops shoots, poché eggs and eggnog with Trappist beer
4 organic eggs
2 organic egg yolks
250ml of clear Trappist beer
400g of hop shoots
40g of butter
20g of extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1) Put the sprouts, butter and a glass of water in a pan, cover with baking paper and cook on low heat for 3-4 minutes.
2) Let half of the beer evaporate in a small saucepan, and leave it to cool; then, add the egg yolks and whip everything with whisk whilst cooking in a bain-marie; add the oil and the chopped herbs; keep warm.
3) Cook the poached eggs as usual.
4) Drain well the sprouts, lay them on a plate, put the eggs on top and finish with the beer sauce.
5) Hop all the way, it intoxicates us!