Tag Archives: Wild Aspargus

ASPARAGUS and ARTICHOKES

It is Spring in Melbourne and artichokes (carciofi) and asparagus (asparagi) season.

We do not see the numerous artichokes in large bunches with long stems that one sees all over Sicily but artichokes in the larger Australian cities have become more common and I have even seen some in supermarkets, but not necessarily fresh and crisp as they should be.

Artichokes in Siracusa Sicily

Last year I was able to buy artichokes from a grower in Werribee – not far from Melbourne.

Artichokes in Werribee Victoria

Asparagus are everywhere in Melbourne (other places in Australia as well). Mostly they are the thin variety of asparagus sold in bunches but in the last few years the thick asparagus sold by weight are easily found. Those of you who eat out or read recipes may have noticed that more and more vegetables are presented char grilled (rather than steamed) and the large asparagus are perfect for this.

In Australia (or at least in Melbourne) we have not yet reached the wild asparagus trend (photos above and below). Wild asparagus are appreciated all over Italy.

I  quite often cook asparagus and artichokes together. I have a friend who eats gluten free food so I stuffed these artichokes with almond meal, parsley, garlic and one egg (make a stiff paste). I braised the artichokes in stock and white wine and because I did not have the correct sized saucepan (I am not living in my apartment at the moment) I had to use a large saucepan.

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No problems – I used whole potatoes to support the artichokes in an upright position. I then added asparagus a few minutes before I was ready to present the artichokes.

IMG_7324I have written many recipes for artichokes on my blog… Use the search button and type in ‘artichokes’ if you wish to find how to clean artichokes and recipes.

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Stripped of their tough outer leaves artichokes are perfect for eating with just a fork and a knife. The artichokes in this photo were cooked by a friend and she braised them with beans (pulses).

 

ASPARAGI DI BOSCO and FRITTATINA (Wild Asparagus continued, and Frittata)

Wild asparagus is strongly associated with spring and as an Italian I am continuing  with my appreciation and fascination of wild asparagus and seasonal produce.

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I bought these wild asparagus in Varese, close to Milan and once again they are totally different in appearance, taste and texture. These are from the woods, i.e. “bosco”. Their stems are slightly furry and they do not taste as bitter as the other two varieties I ate in Sicily or the wild asparagus I ate in Tunis. See Wild Asparagus in Tunis

In this region of Italy butter features strongly in cooking so I sautéed them in butter and added salt and pepper and a little lemon juice. We ate them as a contorno (side dish).

 

I sautéed the second bunch in butter and oil and then added eggs, some grated Parmigiano, salt and pepper and made a frittatatina (small frittata) – this is a very common way to eat wild asparagus in Italy; in Sicily it is one of the favoured foods on Easter Monday (called La Pasquetta).

FRITTATINA DI ASPARAGI ( Small Frittata….substitute with thin variety of asparagus)
Wash the asparagus well, break off any hard ends and break the asparagus into smaller pieces.
Sauté the asparagus in some extra virgin olive oil, add a little salt and pepper. ( Most Italians pre-soften them by boiling them first).
Mix 6 eggs that have been beaten with a fork, add a little salt and about 1 tablespoon of grated cheese.Pour the egg mixture on top of the asparagus, cook the frittata on one side, slide the frittata onto a plate, flip the uncooked side on to the pan and cook.

 

After Italy I went to Spain (Madrid, Toledo and Barcelona). I saw wild asparagus plants growing Toledo and in the Gaudi Gardens In Barcelona (including wild fennel and even bushes of thyme in Montserrat). I did not see them on menus or for sale in the markets in Spain but I suspect that the wild asparagus season is well and truly over – Spain was much warmer than Italy.

 

The quality of the vegetables in the markets in Spain is very good, but I was surprised not to see anything out of the ordinary. There were artichokes and broad beans (both in season) but nowhere near the range of salad or cooking greens I saw in Italy.

What I appreciated in Spain and especially in Barcelona were the artichokes. They are almost totally stripped of all their leaves, sliced very thinly, dipped in a little flour and deep fried.

Like the Italians, the Spaniards also eat them as a frittatina ( Spanish tortilla). The cleaned artichokes are sliced thinly and cooked in the same way as the wild asparagus.

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WILD ASPARAGUS IN SICILY AND TUNIS (ASPARAGI SELVATICI)

Found this bunch of wild asparagus at Marché Central de Tunis and was very excited. I have eaten wild asparagus in Sicily but only on a few occasions because I have not always visited Sicily in spring. It is a spring vegetable and obviously the wild asparagus is appreciated in Tunis as well. Wild asparagus all over Sicily.

Next in Sicily and we found plants on our climb up La Rocca in Cefalu.

We then found plants growing in the garden at our B&B in Cefalu and took photos of the two types of plants which produce the wild asparagus shoots; although they are coming to the end of their season these plants had shoots.

To our delight we ate some where we stayed in the Agruturismo in the Madonie Mountains. It was cooked in a frittata and the shoots appeared again in a pasta dish with sausages made from the special, breed of pork only found in the Madonie and the Nebrodi mountains.(Slow Food)

For those of you who have  not eaten wild asparagus:
The shoots taste slightly bitter. They are the shoots of a very stubborn plant with sharp and needle-like leaves and the asparagus are difficult to pick.

You need to wash the shoots well, snap any of the woody ends just to the point at which the stalk bends and discard the very woody bottom. Cook the top part of the asparagus stalks in salted water and then use in the frittata or as an ingredient in the pasta. If they are not woody their tender tips are great raw.

I dressed Tunis asparagus with olive oil and lemon juice.

There was also much fennel around in Tunis and braised some in a little butter and a dash of red wine vinegar. It is not necessarily the way I normally cook it but one makes do when one is away and staying in an apartment and it did taste good.

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