Spring is the season when many Umbrians scavenge nature for wild edibles. Of all the herbs, greens and plants to be eaten, none is more common than the pencil-thin asparagi selvatici. Driving along the side roads of central Italy, you’re sure to find people bent over scouring the earth for a fresh harvest or upright selling their haul to passing motorists.
During a recent visit to a friend’s olive grove, we found wild asparagus in abundance among the trees. To prepare them, start at the top snapping off small pieces of the stalk until it is no longer tender and doesn’t snap easily. The pieces can then be boiled in broth or added directly to a pasta sauce. This asparagus is milder in flavor and more tender than the cultivated, thicker stalks found in supermarkets.
We had them prepared with tagliatelle in a simple tomato sauce, in an omlette, and in rigatoni with sausage, egg, cheese and black pepper — “alla carbonara”.
Asparagus isn’t all you can find in the olive grove — in addition to numerous edible herbs we found wild fennel (pictured above), onions, and garlic as well.
Photos by Aldo Messina