One of Mother Nature's tastiest gifts.
If you happen to be driving along the back roads of Tuscany (or Italy, in general) and you see people bent over in funny positions scrutinizing the ground up and down the slopes or tangled up in the thickets and underbrush, don’t think they are crazy lunatics or in that they are in trouble – they are probably looking for wild asparagus. This is the season and it is almost a religious experience to search for the elusive shoots.
There are two moments of the year when you see lots of locals out scouring the woodlands: the first is from mid-March to end of April when they are out trying to find the lacy ferns that indicate wild asparagus shoots, and the second is from September to mid October when it is wild Porcini mushroom season.
Wild asparagus are incredibly tasty and have little in common with the domestic varieties that so richly adorn everyone’s tables in this period. Wild asparagus are hard to find and almost impossible to buy because there are very few who will relinquish them after hours spent gathering them in the more impervious sections of the bramble and thistle undergrowth. They are a magnificent present to give to anyone and quite an honor to receive. The long stalks can reach over a meter in length and you usually only use the tender top 10 centimeters of the asparagus itself.
They break easily, so care needs to be taken when cleaning them and preparing them for use. In Tuscany, they are generally either sautéed with some onions and then eggs are added to make a wonderful Frittata, or they become the principal ingredient in a special risotto that you only make during this season. The taste is very intense and rich. There is a huge difference when compared to farmed asparagus.
I have seen attempts made to raise a varietal that imitates the wild version of the asparagus and this particular variety is sometimes seen in the open air markets, but it is a tame version of the true wild asparagus, which is so fantastic in its taste and which entails so much effort to be harvested. The two bunches in the featured picture took Anna Rita and I all morning and several kms of walking on our farm at Casamonti to pick.