What is Wild Asparagus?
It’s nature’s bounty, and it’s just like it sounds – asparagus that grows wild. No tilling, planting, or watering required! Wild asparagus (asparagi selvatici in Italian) is a perennial flowering plant, and the early shoots are what we use as a spring vegetable. In this post we’re going to discuss foraging and how to make a wild asparagus pasta recipe from Umbria.
When is Wild Asparagus Season?
Late March and early April usher in this much-loved tradition of wild asparagus hunting! The spring rain and warm sunshine make these little delicacies go crazy in Umbria. So, depending on the year, the season can stretch into early May! One can easily spend a couple of hours wandering the Olivando property, searching for the little gems.
How Do You Find Wild Asparagus?
Wild asparagus is often camouflaged by the evergreen sprouts from the previous year. Therefore, where you find those, you’ll find asparagus. However, sometimes the shoots seemingly grow out of nowhere, in the rocky soil of Umbria, with no sprouts to guide you. The first time I was introduced to them, it took a little training for my eyes to adjust. But don’t worry. Once you get the hang of it, it’s off to the races.
How Popular is Wild Asparagus Hunting?
It’s a big deal here in Umbria. I wasn’t kidding when I said “races.” Throughout this period, you can spot people quickly walking from a verdant green area back to their cars with ARM loads full of wild asparagus. Folks have their secret spots, much like truffle hunters. Others will wander in places where technically, they shouldn’t. i.e., trespass!
There is a nonna around our neck of the woods who has lived here for decades. We’ve spotted her on our private street several times, plucking the green sprouts that grow along the driveway. We spoke to her, and she told us it was a real bummer when our family put in the fence. Prior to that, she could wander the whole place! It gave us a good chuckle. You gotta love the brash, unapologetic nature of Italian grannies.
Does Wild Asparagus Taste Different?
Yes. Wild asparagus from Umbria has a much more intense flavor than store-bought asparagus. It’s tender enough to eat raw, and some people love it that way. We find it too bitter to eat raw. A quick blanching or sauteeing in will mellow it out.
How Do You Trim Wild Asparagus?
Once we’ve collected enough wild asparagus (there’s never enough, btw) we break it into little pieces, discarding the woody stems. Well, unless we’re making risotto and in that case we save the woody stems for the broth. But we’re not making that today. We’re making a rich wild asparagus pasta from Umbria with parmesan and pancetta. I digress…the asparagus will let you know exactly where to break the tender stem from the woody lower part. Grab it by both ends and gently bend the asparagus in a U shape. The stem will snap in two, exactly where it should. The same should go for regular asparagus – where it snaps naturally is the right place.
How Big Should The Pieces Be?
Depending on the recipe, you can decide for yourself how big you want the pieces to be. We like to break them down into small bite-sized pieces, 1 inch or less, for this pasta. Above I have shown what I consider to be enough wild asparagus for one, two, and three people. It looks like a lot, I know, but once they’re been trimmed, you end up with much less. And what can I say? We’re rich in wild asparagus and I’ve become greedy. Wouldn’t you if you lived in the Umbrian countryside? Pro-tip, if you don’t want to use the asparagus right away, store it in some water in the fridge (as pictured above) to keep it’s crispness.
Now you’re ready to go. These can be incorporated into whatever dish you’d like, just like regular asparagus. Find a recipe, get creative, or start with the wild asparagus pasta recipe from Umbria below. Whatever you choose, be sure to add a generous drizzle of Olivando EVOO. If you make this one, be sure to tag us on Instagram and Facebook using #olivando!
Wild Asparagus and Pancetta Pasta
As much wild asparagus as your heart desires (or two bunches store-bought asparagus)
2 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
400 grams (14 oz) bucatini pasta
200 grams (7 oz) pancetta or bacon
2 TBSP Olivando extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
100 grams (3.5 oz) freshly grated parmesan, plus extra for topping
Coarse salt for salting the pasta water
- Prepare the asparagus by snapping it into small bite-sized pieces, about 1 inch or less. Discard woody stems. Set aside trimmed asparagus.
- Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil over high heat.
- In a large skillet, cook the pancetta. Once cooked, set pancetta aside on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil. Remove the majority of the grease from the pan, leaving just a little to flavor the asparagus. Once pancetta is cooled, chop it into small bits.
- Add 2 TBSP Olivando olive oil to the skillet. Once hot, add 2 whole cloves of peeled garlic to season the oil. Let the cloves cook in the oil for a minute or two over medium heat.
- Add the asparagus to the skillet, toss to coat in oil, and cook over medium-low heat until tender. Add bacon bits and keep warm as pasta cooks.
- Once boiling, generously salt pasta water and cook according to instructions, leaving it slightly al dente, aka cook it about 1 minute less than the instructions. It will cook a little more in the skillet.
- When pasta is cooked, use a pasta spoon to transfer it to the skillet with asparagus and pancetta, along with a little of the starchy pasta water, about 1/4 cup. You can use more if needed, but you don’t want the pasta to be watery. Toss the ingredients. Remove garlic cloves and discard.
- Add grated parmesan and toss again. Serve immediately, topped with a drizzle of Olivando and an extra sprinkling of parmesan cheese.