Asparagus: A Story of Stalking and Snapping

February 16, 2010

Stalks of Wild Asparagus, copyright Jann Huizenga

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.

Roasted Asparagus with Wedge of Lemon, Copyright Jann Huizenga

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?


Here’s a link to a blogger in Italy  doing a series on wild edibles.

9 comments to Asparagus: A Story of Stalking and Snapping

  • Yum!! I can’t wait to try the wild asparagus. This will be my first February in Sicily, and I am looking forward to the hunt.

  • I would love to do this! One of my favorite things in Sicily is to see all of the foragers in the ditches and the fields. Always makes me want to pull my car over and tag along so I can learn from them…maybe I’ll actually do it one of these days. Delicious photos and easy recipe….thank you!

    • Jann

      Lucia–I bet total strangers would get a kick out of showing you what’s edible along Sicilian roadways! They’re so proud of their land and the luscious abundance it produces.

  • Josephine Lissandrello

    I went wild asparagus picking in Ragusa with a cousin a few years ago. It was lots of fun and the flavor of the asparagus was absolutely delicious. It has a much stronger flavor than store bought asparagus. I love your blog.

    • Jann

      Thanks, Josephine–so happy to have you as a reader! I agree that the store-bought variety is not quite up to the standard of the wild…

  • this sounds delish…and sounds like a dinner plan to me! How fun to have gone on a wild asparagus hunt with signore Battaglia!

  • sandee wheeler

    Waist high asparagus?!? I can’t imagine it. I cook asparagus in a small amount of water, not for long, and then transfer to a pan with butter and fry it a little. I sprinkle parmesan cheese on it right before I eat it. Yummmmmm!

  • February already for your asparagus! We have another couple of months to wait for ours. And then you have to get up early to pick them. Everytime I think I found my own little secret place and get there by mid-morning, I already find the spears off.

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