Foraging for Wild Asparagus in Tuscany

DSC_0135 wild asparagus spears

No matter what the season, there is always something to be foraged in and around our ulivetto (olive grove). Early spring brings one of the best treats of all, as clusters of wild asparagus begin to appear among the roots of the olive trees. The spindly stems of wild asparagus are easy to miss and hours of foraging may yield only small bundles of spears – especially when there is stiff competion from eagle-eyed local nonnas. But for me, the elusive nature of wild asparagus makes it a particularly valued treat.

Finding wild asparagus
Wild asparagus grows in sunny spots in moist soil, and seems to like ditches and the edge of fields. Its foliage has a distinctive feathery and fern-like appearance, like a mini fir tree. Although tall spears can occasionally be spotted from a distance, in general the key to successful asparagus foraging is to look for the leaves of the plant.

wild asparagus foliage leaves

Wild asparagus foliage

Some varieties of wild asparagus grow upright but the variety we have growing around the olive grove is the prostate, mediterranean kind. The plants have a tendency to sprawl along the ground for a metre or more, often becoming entangled with neighbouring undergrowth. To locate the edible shoots you need to trace the plant back to its base, as it’s there that you will, if you’re lucky, find a few of the delicate spears sent up by the roots. Asparagus leaves are spiny so gloves and long-sleeves are recommended for this task.

Spears should be cut at ground level (this encourages further shoots) when they are at least 10cm tall and while the tips are still closed. In general, tall, thin spears are the most tender, and short, stubby spears may be bitter and should be given a few days to develop before picking. It is important to leave a few spears to open and go to seed as this ensures next year’s crop.

wild asparagus spears poking through the ground undergrowth

wild asparagus spears hidden among the undergroth

Cooking wild asparagus
Wild asparagus has a stronger, more bitter flavour than the cultivated variety and (luckily) even a small number of spears will flavour a dish. Spears tend to wilt quickly so should be eaten when fresh. We usually use only the tips as the stems can be woody.

Since we had some fresh eggs from a neighbouring farmer, Michele made a frittata with our haul, but wild asparagus is also delicious eaten with pasta bianca. Vienna (Michele’s mum) also preserves them sott’olio (under oil) so the taste of springtime can be enjoyed another day.

Wild asparagus sott'olio

A Jar of wild asparagus sott’olio

8 responses to “Foraging for Wild Asparagus in Tuscany

  1. Thanks for stopping by my blog – let me know if you give any of the recipes with olive oil a try (it sounds as though you have ample supply of good olive oil in your neck of the woods).

    I only just moved to Italy as well – like you, my partner is Italian. Look forward to reading more about your adventure slightly further up North (we are in Rome at the moment).

    • Thank you for visiting and good luck adapting to Roma – it’s such a beautiful city – and the spiritual home of my favourite food (carciofi)! I will definitely try out some of your recipes they look mouth-watering…

  2. It is wild asparagus time here, they grow along fence lines in the fields. The morels are about over, thought it was a late season. Here in the southeastern woodlands it is now time for a long line of emerging edibles, berries, more mushrooms, greens, fish, and so on… I imagine the same will be following there as along similar latitudes follow similar species. Enjoy the bounty of the Earth!! Long live Mother Earth!

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