Scratched arms and legs, thorn-pricked hands and itchy, sweaty skin can all herald bliss:
when you scramble up out of the woods, scraped hands clutching a big bunch of tender wild asparagus. The past couple days have brought that bliss: an unseasonably warm spring has yielded unprecendented wild asparagus abundance this year.
How to use this delectable woodland treasure? In frittata agli asparagi, risotto agli asparagi or tagliatelle agli asparagi? Many years ago, farm neighbor Chiarina had taught me to make frittata agli asparagi and from Mandina, I’d learned risotto agli asparagi. But after I mastered the art of rolling out homemade pasta, there was no going back: tagliatelle agli asparagi became a springtime favorite.
And wild asparagus is more than a palate-pleaser: Peppa simmers wild asparagus pieces in water for drinking before bed. “Ottimo per i reni – e la salute in genere” (Excellent for the kidneys – and health in general), she affirms wisely.
Here in Umbria, dogs are used to hunt wild boar, pheasants and hare and some breeds are trained to sniff out the truffles; but dogs don’t forage for wild asparagus.
At least, not ours. I coaxed along our big white Maremanno shepherd, Lamone, on one wild asparagus hunt, sending him ahead of me through the high grasses waving under our olive trees bordering our woods. He’d scare away any vipers, hopefully: our farm friends had always warned to be wary when wild asparagus foraging, for in warm weather, the viper seeks the woodland cool. But in nearly forty years of scrambling up and down over the rocks in our woods, I’ve never seen one.
Lamone wasn’t up for the adventure though: he plopped down in a copse of grass near the woods, peacefully watching me scramble up and down among the brambles while panting with what I swore was a smug grin.
Lamone’s not like our first sheep, Sophie: years ago, while I was deep in the woods hunting the first asparagus shoots, Sophie had joined in my foraging.
She’d been Pino’s first birthday gift to me when we moved to work the land in Umbria in the mid-1970’s. He hadn’t paid much: we had little and she was worth little. None of our farm neighbors would buy Sophie from Aldo, local shepherd: she was old, lame and arthritic (limping and hobbling) – but she was pregnant (herein lay Pino’s “investment”!).
Pregnant, round-bellied Sophie bleated mournfully those first days after separation from Aldo’s flock. When I staked her out on the chain, she hobbled around in agitated endless circles, bleating forlornly. I finally let her off the chain to wander freely in the fields.
One May day, I’d put on high rubber (“anti-viper”) boots, grabbed my walking stick and headed down into the woods for wild asparagus. Suddenly, a racket above broke the woodland quiet: 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 my wild asparagus hunts. Sometimes, Pino joins me but often, I head into the woods on my own for wild asparagus foraging bliss.
Bliss reigns later at the table, too… when the wild asparagus stars in tasty dishes like this one:
Tagliatelle agli Asparagi con Polpettine (Fettuccine Pasta with Wild Aspargus and Baby Meatball Sauce)
Or scrambled eggs with wild asparagus…
Or as a base for various pasta….
(Videos done by Oriente Occidente Productions. Grazie infinite!)