In the last days of winter and the first few of spring, the Malaga countryside starts to burgeon with plants which still form a part of traditional Spanish recipes.
The most well known is wild asparagus (trigueros) which are highly coveted by lovers of traditional cuisine but there are many more, although most are in clear decline both in homes and in restaurants. Nowadays, the collection of wild plants is regulated and in the case of parks and nature reserves, it is prohibited. On private land, explicit permission from the owner is needed. Neither is it permitted to collect and sell plants to third parties; only domestic use is allowed as long as the biological species is not protected.
During a good part of the winter and in spring, if there has been sufficient rainfall, wild asparagus proliferates on the mountain ranges of Malaga. There are three types of wild asparagus in Spain, morunos, amargueros (early winter) and trigueros (early spring). Trigueros are the most prized and used in many traditional recipes.
Wild asparagus is commonly used in omelettes, scrambled eggs -called morrete in many villages- or soup, although many prefer to simply grill the slender spears with a sprinkle of salt.
Thistles and cardoons
Tagarninas and cardos have edible stems and are both members of the thistle family. The tagarnina, which is very abundant at this time of year, is a type of thistle and like the thistle, has a covering of prickles. However, to take advantage of its stems for cooking, it must be picked when it is still growing, taking great care not to draw blood.
It can be used in much the same way as wild asparagus, in scrambled eggs and in omelettes as well as in stews with chickpeas. Combined with cardoons, it is a typical dish of the Vega de Antequera area. In Villanueva del Rosario a fiesta is held every February (but not recently because of the pandemic) to celebrate the tagarnina.
From the end of winter and through the first half of spring, wild fennel bring an aniseed touch to dishes from the Serranía de Ronda to the Axarquía. There are many different types of dishes prepared with this herb, such as potajes (stews)- sometimes called bolos in some villages. It is usually accompanied by chickpeas or white beans with black pudding or fatty bacon. In Malaga the stems and leaves are normally used although you can sometimes find the bulb in local markets.
Known as collegas, the bladder campion grows abundantly in inland Malaga. A few decades ago it was common in humbler homes where it was used as a substitute for some green vegetables. It has been replaced in recent years by spinach or chard although it can still be found in some old recipes for omelettes and stews.