Asparagi Selvatici

by Michael Tucker
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asparagiWe bought our house in Umbria ten years ago this past summer.

A couple of months after the sale was completed the former owners, Bruno and Mayes, came over for lunch. And as the lunch lingered, as lunches in Umbria do, Bruno interrupted himself in mid-lecture on the glories of Roman pasta.

“Asparagi,” he said calmly. He got up from his chair, crossed over to the wall of our ancient wood-burning oven and snapped off a pencil-thin spear of wild asparagus that was hiding in and among the other grasses.

“It’s all over the place,” he said. “April is the time. You’ll see hundreds of contadini in the fields and by the side of the road, harvesting them. Here, taste.”

I bit off the end of the slender stalk and chewed on it a bit. It was raw, of course, and a little stringy but the taste fairly attacked me with its vibrancy. Wild asparagus is way wilder than tame asparagus.

“Just imagine,” I thought, “how it’ll make my pee smell.”

With that noble scientific quest in mind, I immediately began to search for more. I looked all around the forno, where Bruno found his and then up the hill toward the olive trees, but there were no more spears to be found.

 

“I think you got the last one,” I said to Bruno.

its-in-there-300x231

“No they’re all over the place. There’s one by your foot, for God’s sake.”

I looked and looked.

“Where?”

He sighed, got up from his chair with a pitying look on his face and pointed two feet away from my foot, “Do you see it?”

I didn’t. I didn’t see it until he bent over, snapped it off and handed it to me.

This frustrating charade has been going on for the last ten years. We come every spring; we see the locals by the roadside with long forked sticks poking the weeds aside (also to check for snakes, of which Italians have a deathly fear) and satchels over their shoulders filled with wild asparagus. And we have none.

But yesterday! Yesterday I was up in the olive grove, just to feel the early spring sun on my face, and I looked down and there was a wild asparagus spear! I wasn’t even looking for it. I bent down to pluck it and felt a sharp prick on my finger. There was a lacy weed right next the spear that had prickles on it. Then I noticed another lacy weed that had a stalk next to it. And then another.

italianasparagus“Jill!” I called. “I think they grow next to these prickly weeds!”

I ran to my computer and googled “prickly weeds next to wild asparagus,” and guess what? Those prickly weeds? They’re called asparagus plants.

Why did no one ever tell me? Ten fruitless, frustrating years and not one person, not one friend, ever said, “Look next to the prickly plants. That’s where they are.” 

Never mind. The present is all that matters. We spent the afternoon harvesting handfuls of them and right around happy hour, which is whenever I say it is, we tossed them in some of the olive oil that comes from the very tree the asparagi grow under, added a sprinkle of salt and a quick roast in a hot oven — just long enough to start a sizzle.

We ate them with our hands and then licked our fingers — like popcorn.

 

Michael Tucker is an actor and author whose third book is Family Meals: Coming Together to Care for an Aging ParentSol Lewitt at Mass MoCA. You can read more about his food adventures on his blog Notes from a Culinary Wasteland.

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