The Great Wild Asparagus Hunt

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.

Olive trees in Navelli

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.

Asparagus in the wild

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.

View from Navelli's Olive Trees and Author

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.

Wild Asparagus: cleaned and diced

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

Almost a wild asparagus frittatta

Linda's wild asparagus frittata

Tirino Valley as seen from Navelli's olive trees April 3rd 2010

Asparagus on FoodistaAsparagus

5 responses to “The Great Wild Asparagus Hunt

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Great Wild Asparagus Hunt « Carbonara's Weblog --

  2. Great hunting for veggies! A lovely description and that frittata looks divine. The difference between these and the commercially grown is incredible, if only more people knew!

  3. Hello, this is a great news, and I’m glad to find someone like you to educate others to different way to eat appreciate asparagus.
    My best culinary regards, and enjoy hunting your wild asparagus.
    The spring is the right season for wild asparagus and just sauteed them with garlic and olive oil adding a fresh homemade “fettuccine” and the fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano at the end before you serve the pasta I think it is just heaven.

  4. This is just wonderful! If only there were more places to forage or look for asparagus in the wild. The view up there is amazing!Your site is really wonderful,I’d love to guide our readers to your site if you won’t mind.Just add your choice of foodista widget to the end of this post and it’s all set, Thanks!

  5. Hi Joshua, I am so envious that you are able to forage for your own wild asparagus. Like you, asparagus was never on my favorite vegetable list (very few were!) but thankfully I have grown to appreciate it. My great asparagus revelation came when I roasted it for the first time, it brought out hints of nuttiness. I then tried grilling it, which may be my preferred method for cooking asparagus as it caramelizes the sugars creating a sweeter final dish.
    I love the thin early asparagus but if it is later in the season and I am unable to find pencil thin stalks I peel the ends with a potato peelers. I find the end of the thicker asparagus to be woody, chewy and generally unappetizing.

    I have some great recipes that I could recommend, one in particular that I think you would love – very Italian themed.

    Thank you for commenting on my tagliolini with zucchini flower cream sauce post. We ate the dish I was recreating in Rome last month and it was divine! I adore Italy and try to go back as often as possible. How lucky for you to live there!
    Best, Vienna

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