February 16, 2010
Starting in February, Sicilians take to the hills and valleys to hunt for wild spring asparagus.
The first time I stalked asparagi was with a party of friends in a wildflower-strewn valley just beyond Ragusa Ibla. We were led into battle by my friend Gio’s father, Signor Battaglia, a tailor with a zeal for women and wild edibles.
Though the skinny spears grew waist-high, they weren’t easy to spot. They lurked in brambles and behind stone drystone walls. For several hours we rambled through the golden freshness playing a kind of Where’s Waldo with asparagus.
“Look! There are five right ahead of me,” Signor Battaglia would say. He’d stop dead in his tracks to let our eyes focus. But the flora was tangled and we were asparagus-blind. He’d scowl with mock impatience, then inch forward to tap each tender green shoot with the tip of his cane. We’d erupt in surprise, and someone would clamber over a rock wall or wade deep into the brush to pluck the tall spears with a satisfying snap.
When we’d collected enough wild food to feed a village, we headed back to the house to prepare lunch with our dewy ingredients.
I’ve written elsewhere about this meal and special man, Signor Battaglia, who for me is the incarnation of Sicilian joie de vivre.
I thought about him yesterday and started craving asparagus. Since I’m not in Sicily at the moment, I had to settle for stalking spears in the vegetable aisle at Trader Joe’s. I found some good organic skinny spears. I love asparagus best roasted, so here’s what I did:
1. Snap off woody ends.
2. Wash well (store-bought variety can be gritty).
3. Put in baking dish and drizzle with olive oil.
4. Roast at 350 for about 15 minutes.
5. Grind coarse salt and pepper and add a little spritz of lemon if desired.
6. Serve at room temperature as an antipasto or hot as a side dish.
Asparagus has health benefits galore: it clears urine (yup!); contains fiber that encourages digestion; and supports heart health thanks to folate, vitamin B, and the master antioxidant glutathione.
Do you forage for wild edibles? What do you do with asparagi?