frittata of wild asparagus

Going to the markets in Rome in the spring is intoxicating. While I like cavolo nero, broccoletti and cicoria as much as the next girl, come April I am so over cruciferous anything. But spring brings artichokes, peas, fave and asparagus. And the season is so short for this spring bounty, that I buy and cook as much of them as possible.

At the beginning of the season all of these vegetables are hugely expensive. Artichokes can go up to almost 2 euros a piece. But the most expensive spring vegetable of them all must be tiny wild asparagus. Small, thin stalks, sold in tightly bound bunches, they look more like twigs than the fat cultivated variety.

You might think 8 euros a bunch is an awful lot to pay for enough greens that may barely dress a pasta for two. And you’d be right. But you’ve also probably never tried to harvest the little buggers yourself.

While I’m happy to buy over-priced artichokes, fave and peas from my fruttivendolo, when it comes to wild asparagus I’ll forage them myself, thank you very much. You see, up in Umbria, around our house, the woods this time of year are full of these beauties. If you can find them, that is.

For years I’d see my local neighbors walking along the side of the road, and into the woods, barely able to wrap their hands around huge bunches of hundreds of asparagus. While I, complete with my special asparagus picker, would be holding a sad looking dozen.

My neighbors would be looking at the exact same patch of woods that I was, but where they saw (and picked) stalk after stalk, I saw only twigs, weeds and grass. You see, asparagus are very tricky. They stand very still and pretend they aren’t edible. Chameleon-like, they blend in with what ever happens to be next to them in the dappled light of the woods.

But I’m happy to say, that after 15 years of serious practice, I’ve finally gotten good enough to at least harvest enough for a meal during a morning’s work. I’ve laid claim to several very isolated patches of underbrush where I know the stalks pop up every year. My friend Jane and I got going this past weekend, and were quite happy with our haul.

And if you think our bunch looks impressive, you have to remember that most of the damn things get thrown away. The skinny stems are hard and fibrous, and only the top third of the stalks are actually edible.

So, next time you wander into Campo de’ Fiori, and wonder why those wild asparagus are so expensive, just go try to pick them yourself. I may lend you my special asparagus picker. But I’m sure not going to reveal my secret spots in the woods.

Frittata of Wild Asparagus
Serves 8

1 kilo/2 pounds wild asparagus
1 small onion
7 eggs
1 cup pecorino, cut in small cubes (use a semi soft pecorino, not very aged)
2 Tablespoons grated parmigiano
2.5 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper

Clean and trim asparagus, cutting them into 1 inch lengths and discarding the hard and fibrous stems. You can tell what to save and what to throw away by bending the stalk. If they snap easily, that means they are edible. If you bend then and they don’t break, that means you’ve hit the tough part. When in doubt, I bite it with my teeth. The asparagus should be tender enough to bite through, cooked or uncooked.

In a frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil, and gently cooked the chopped onions until softened. Don’t let them brown. Add salt and pepper, and the asparagus. Give a good stir, to coat with onions and add a half cup of water. Cover the pan and let gently steam for about 5 minutes.

Uncover the pan, and taste to see if tender. Cook until tender, adding more water if necessary. Let the water completely cook away and turn off heat.

In a bowl, break eggs and beat with salt, pepper and parmigiano. Add the cheese cubes and cooked asparagus and stir to mix.

In the same pan, add the remaining oil, and pour in the egg mixture. Cook on low eat, with the cover on the pan, until the frittata is set. If you can manage it, hold the cover on the pan, using a pot holder, and flip the frittata over, so that it is resting on the lid. Then gently slip it back into the pan to make sure the other side is fully cooked.

To serve, gently slip onto a round serving platter.

A note on the pan: this is the one time I absolutely insist on using a good non-stick pan. It really does make the whole frittata experience much smoother. You’ll notice my frittata below is less than perfect, and that is because I was using a pan that stuck. Tasted great, but wasn’t as perfect looking as my obsessive compulsive self would have liked.

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  1. says

    Going out to my summer place this weekend on Eastern LI. No wild asparagus, but I hear from a good source (my mother) that rhubarb, English peas and lettuce are finally on the farm stand. Can’t wait!

  2. says

    That frittata looks absolutely droolworthy. The one time I ever attempted picking asparagina in my friends’ campagna, I only came home with 5 lonely stalks. I was living alone at the time, and they were enough for a small portion of risotto…

    Baci xx

  3. Kitty says

    Ohhhh my goodness, so yummy! Asparagus is my absolute favorite, here in Canada even now we aren’t seeing them fresh and I was so craving the taste that I bought at the market I bought some that had been imported from ‘gahd knows’ where and I really need to learn to just be patient and wait…..ohhh but once the season begins here my family will be eating it for a month straight. I arrive in Rome on Friday with my husband, we are so looking forward to our first time there and we selected our restaurants from your “lists” and your guidance on Chowhound. Also will be searching through your “app”. Thanks!!

  4. says

    Mmmm… just started picking our own asparagus here in SE NY. I’ve been sneakily snapping off one or two just to nibble as I walk.

    It’s so fresh and delicious, even for a salad!

  5. santafefran says

    How fondly I remember the days in the early 70’s when I lived in Las Cruces, NM close to a neglected pecan orchard by the acequia where I would find heaps of wild asparagus to bring home. Thought I had died and gone to asparagus heaven. Discovered a great way to eat them was parboiled and then marinated in a sesame oil/soy sauce combo. Your frittata looks great to me and makes me wish for those young tender stalks!

  6. says

    Kitty: I hope you have a great time in Rome, looking forward to your report.
    Kasha and Santa Fe Fran: Raw asparagus are next on the menu.

  7. says

    Very popular also in the north of Italy. On Easter Monday it is easy to find mother’s after the picnic lunch with a paper bag and knife in their hand going bruscandoli hunting! This year they forecast rain so on Easter Monday no bruscandoli frittata but as soon as the sun comes out. Ready set go!

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