Or another fun thing to do among the olive trees in early spring.
I am not really fond of asparagus. It’s one of the few foods I recoiled from as a kid that’s still on my yuck list. It wasn’t the flavor that got to me–I did like nibbling off the buds– it was the mix of mush and stringiness of the stalks.
Other people seem to go crazy for asparagus. Although, I would never eat it, I used to make a light asparagus and cream pizza as an antipasto for parties. The recipe was simple. I rolled out pre-made pasta sfoglia (Italian filo dough), spread a thin layer of cooking cream over it, added some diced white asparagus, and sprinkled salt and a generous grating of nutmeg on top. I baked it until the dough rose and was a light brown and the cream started to turn the same color as the nutmeg. Then, I cut it into little wedges or squares and served it.
It must have been good, because it was usually the first hor’s d’oeuvre to go.
Wild asparagus is another story––perhaps, because hunting for them in the underbrush below the olive trees increases the desire to eat them. But, mainly because the flavor is more delicate and, if picked early, they are too small and thin to have that icky stringiness. Just before sundown, on Easter Saturday, we made a last minute decision to go hunting for some.
Our family’s olive trees are on the hillsides overlooking the Tirino river valley. Luigi guided us, reminding Pierluigi, Fania and me of where the asparagus hide out and what they look like in the wild. With an asparagus hunting stick (to lean on, or to clear away prickly plants) I hiked up the slope, zigzagging from tree to tree, seeking out little blueish-green stems, until my jacket pocket was half full and the sun was getting dangerously low.
The view from the olive grove was full of flavor and rich color. The slope was steep, something I hadn’t noticed during my climb up the hill, my nose in the tall grass around the base of each ancient tree. Below me, beyond the state road that twisted through the valley, more olive trees appeared as little specks in the distance below. Higher up, I could see Passo Lanciano, the mountain pass to Pescara over Gran Sasso’s lower southern arm. Sunset was imminent, and hills and slopes rolled off into the distance like watercolor waves under purple-grey clouds.
Our goal was to have asparagus on pasta that evening, either sautéed, then mixed in with grated parmesan, or as a vegetarian substitute for the guanciale or bacon in Carbonara. However, dinner was already waiting for us when we returned.
So, we had the spoils of our wild asparagus hunt the next night in a frittata (the Italian version of an omelet).
Oh, by the way, if what you hate about commercial asparagus is the texture, one solution is to puree them in a blender after they are well cooked. Mix with a bit of oil and parmesan, and use on pasta as you would sweet basil pesto.
– Joshua Lawrence
For those of you reading this on Facebook or elsewhere, it was first published on carbonara.wordpress.com