Wild Asparagus Bliss, Then and Now
Feeling itchy and sweaty, scratched arms and legs, and hands pricked by thorns can all herald bliss:
When you scramble up out of the woods, scratched hands clutching a big bunch of tender wild asparagus.
Cool weather these days is ideal for foraging for asparagi selvatici: less chance of meeting a viper. Years ago, our farm neighbors taught us the precautions for wild asparagus-hunting: wear high rubber boots and carry a stick to thrash around near the base of the prickly plants before putting hands among the rocks and leaves to pluck the tender asparagus shoots. Vipers move into the cool of the woods in hot weather, they warned.
For me, the hardest part of the asparagus-foraging adventure always came afterwards as I was snapping the shoots, then washing them: time to decide how to use the prelibate woodland treasure. In frittata agli asparagi, risotto agli asparagi or tagliatelle agli asparagi? Many years ago, Chiarina, taught me to make frittata agli asparagi and I learned to make risotto agli asparagi from Mandina. But after I mastered the art of rolling out homemade pasta, there was no going back: tagliatelle agli asparagi became a springtime favorite.
But wild asparagus is not only a prime palate-pleaser: Peppa cooks wild asparagus pieces in water for drinking before bed. “Ottimo per i reni – e la salute in genere”, she affirms (“Excellent for the kidneys – and health in general”)
As I was on the hunt for wild asparagus this morning, I grinned as I remembered a surprise visitor when foraging in those woods one spring day over thirty years ago: our first sheep, Sophie.
She was my first birthday gift from Pino when we moved to Umbria to work the land. He didn’t pay much: we had little and she was worth little. Aldo, the shepherd in our area, had been unable to sell Sophie to any of our farm neighbors. They were smart enough to know a BAD deal when they saw one! She was old, lame and arthritic (limping and hobbling) but she was pregnant (herein lay Pino’s “investment”!).
Sophie bleated and bleated those first days after separation from Aldo’s flock. When I staked her out on the chain, she hobbled around and around in agitated endless circles, bleating forlornly. I finally let her off the chain to wander freely in the fields.
One May day, I put on my high rubber boots, grabbed my walking stick and headed for the woods to hunt wild asparagus. I soon had quite a fistful, ending up deep in the woods, way down near the creek. Suddenly, I heard a racket coming from above: dead wood cracking, branches breaking, dead leaves rustling – and then a forlorn “baaaaaaaaaa”. Lonely Sophie was hurtling down among the trees after me, in a frantic search for company.
Sophie is no longer with me on wild asparagus hunts. The wild asparagus I find nowadays usually ends up in a frittata or a simple sauce for spaghetti or penne. Like the one I made today:
Penne agli Asparagi
- Large can whole Roma tomatoes or large can of sauce
- 2 or 3 garlic cloves
- 1/2 white or yellow onion
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Aspargus, i bunch, cut into small pieces less than 1″ each approximately (assuming you are not going out to your woods to hunt wild asparagus!)
- Optional: chili pepper
- Optional: 2 strips of Italian bacon, pancetta
Make a simple tomato sauce as follows:
Cover saucepan with olive oil. Drop in 2 peeled garlic cloves and saute’ finely-diced onion til golden. (If adding pancetta and/or pancetta, do so now).
Add tomatoes and cook about 10 mins., then add asparagus tips and cook just til tender.
Serve over pasta. Add Parmesan cheese.
(Hint: save water when draining pasta and add to sauce if a bit of liquid is needed)
Read more here about wild asparagus….
Click here to see a video of the asparagus hunt
Click here for a video of wild asparagus-frittata-making
Click here to see a video of frittata-making
Read more about wild asparagus hunts, then and now
Read about a wild asparagus festival near Spoleto
Click here for a wild asparagus recipe
Click here for more recipes….
Read about Novella’s wild asparagus