Eggi (pop. about 400), medieval castle village near Spoleto, is celebrating la Sagra degli Asparagi triumphantly this year: with all the rain, it’s a bountiful year for wild asparagus. A lead volunteer, Eva, invited me into the kitchen of the typical sagra pre-fab tent where local women flanked chef Giancarlo in white jacket and toque – in the corner, making the strangozzi pasta – as they turned out asparagus goodness. They chatted and laughed as hands flew.
Wild asparagus starred in dishes ranging from antipasti to soup to pasta to meats and even desserts (ah, heavenly that crostata di asparagi, asparagus tart). Eva told me proudly that intrepid local wild asparagus hunters (many of them elderly pensionati, i.e. “retired”), scrambling up and down wooded hills for hours, are coming home with bundles “weighing kilos!” Wizened, gray-haired Giuseppe, grilling sausages and pork chops just outside the kitchen, nodded his agreement: he’s found even two kilos a day in his asparagus forages this spring.
And Eggi women excel at tantalizing wild asparagus dishes. Signora Sina stirred wild asparagus pasta sauces (one with tomato, one without) while nearby, Signora Agnese spooned creamy asparagus sauce onto moist slices of roast beef. Rita and Antonella spead asparagus-pate’ onto bruschetta and another Rita flipped golden asparagus frittate. When I asked the kitchen crew, “mamma mia, why so many Rite in this town?”, one replied with a smile, “Probaby because we’re so close to Cascia!” (Note: Santa Rita was born in 1381 in Cascia, about 30 mins from Eggi). Signora’ Rita’s frittata di asparagi was the tenderest I’ve ever had and she shared her secret with me: local olive oil, just the right amount of salt (“q.b” or quanto basta) and use 10 eggs for a medium-sized frittata.
Signora Eva placed the plastic plates mounded with asparagus strangozzi on trays and passed them on to the younger volunteers waiting at the counter, eager to serve them to hungry waiting guests in the tent dining room.
When I asked smiling Georgia – nine years old – why she would be running tables for ten nights at the sagra, she replied, “Perche’ ci divertiamo tanto!” (“Because it’’s so much fun!”)
And the youthful wait staff is not the only group enjoying Eggi asparagus sagra good times: just outside the food tent, a band plays as elderly and younger couples waltz, fox trot and mazurka. A good way to digest the asparagus goodness.