I am a huge fan/supporter of harvesting wild food. You can see my Wild Caper and Chestnut posts as proof. Food just tastes better when it grows wild and going for a hike or hunt to find it makes it an fun adventure. Last year, when reading about Kate Little's adventures in the woods above Levanto to find wild asparagus, I was delighted at the idea of finding asparagus and determined to discover these skinny, hidden jewels myself.
Come March, during a celebration of our friends' bar opening (see Bar dell'Amore) in the Cinque Terre, a friend from Riomaggiore told me that he was making asparagus risotto from a bunch of wild asparagus he gathered that morning. I got excited and asked him where I could find some, to which he told me that it grows all over the hills of the Cinque Terre and I could even find it above the bar. Fortunately, another friend from Vernazza pointed out that all of the Cinque Terre is a protected reserve and I could get a huge fine for taking any kind of plant. After much discussion about what could be said to the cops and how I could pretend to be a tourist that didn't know any better, I decided it was best to just look for it elsewhere!
Since then, I have taken a few trips into the hills with my husband to search for these little veggies, but to no avail. Then, on Easter Sunday, we broke away from the feasting for a bit to take a drive up through the mountains. Even though it was an overcast day, the views were amazing and we could see the snow capped Apuane Alps in the distance.
As we were heading back down the mountain, we got to an area where my husband started seeing the signs of an asparagus habitat.
We stopped the car in the middle of the road and started inspecting the ground around us. Luckily he knew what to look for, because I had no idea what an asparagus plant looked like.
See the tiny, spiny plant on the right? That is an asparagus plant, and it interestingly enough seemed to always grow alongside a pea variety that you can see on the left. The plant does not produce the asparagus spears, though. The spears pop up straight from the ground in and around the plant and they are often quite difficult to see.
I cannot describe how happy I was to have finally found wild asparagus! After collecting a small bunch, we proudly returned home with our raccolta.
Asparagus is a springtime veggie and likes cool weather and mulchy, wooded forest floors. If you live an area like this, go hunting for some wild asparagus of your own! Make sure to keep your eyes peeled because they are easy to miss. Happy hunting!