Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve got a new dealer in Maremma. An asparagus dealer. Her name is Irma and she defines herself as an “asparagaia”.
The adjective is interesting since she does not seem to farm anything else. Asparagus grows only for a few weeks every year, so I wonder what she gets up to for the rest of the time. It is not much of a business: there’s no sign. To get the green spears, you can call ahead or just show up at Irma’s house, and then you follow her little dog to a shed out back. She sells wholesale or to those in the know.
There is something about finding the mother lode of a precious vegetable in a short-lived season that makes you react like the world’s greatest hoarder. Last weekend I bulk bought 10 kilos of asparagus—those farm-direct prices are truly irresistible—and shared my stock with the office. Here’s some insight into our creative uses for asparagus before it wilts in the fridge.
My husband’s latest obsession is poached eggs. He watched a Jamie Oliver instructional video about three ways to make them and now he won’t stop talking about it. The best bed a poached egg can hope for is one made of freshly steamed asparagi.
To make it: Search for Jamie Oliver video on poached eggs and follow tutorial. Blanch or steam asparagus and lay on plate, drizzle with oil and sea salt. Possibly grate fresh white tartufo on top and charge your family 50 euro to eat it. Michelin star guaranteed!
Mary, our events and associate editor, shared the asparagus with friends at a potluck aperitivo.
To make it: Cook asparagus in boiling water for 2-3 minutes, then drain. Lay on a plate and drizzle with olive oil, then crumble goat cheese on top. Apparently, it tastes better than it sounds.
Helen, TF’s editor in chief, also likes to keep it simple and savour the flavour of the vegetable by just tossing it in a pan.
To make it: In a frying pan, steam asparagus with a splash of water until crunchy-tender. Plate with a drizzle of your finest extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of rock salt. Serve with a young pecorino, or just pair with plenty of Vermentino white wine.
Make it a meal
Personally, I’m a fan of one-pot meals, so I’ll make risotto with just about anything, especially my abundant Maremma farm finds. My father in law is the risotto master and he taught me how to make it when I was new to Italy.
To make it: Wash and chop asparagus. In a shallow, wide pot, heat extra-virgin olive oil and add asparagus. On high heat, add one cup of Maremma Carnaroli rice and toast for one minute. Add two cups of vegetable broth, stir, cover and lower heat to minimum. If all goes well, 18-20 minutes later you’ll have a meal, and not much cleaning up to do.
Egg it again
One of the best Italian tricks for leftover anything or surplus vegetables is the frittata. Although I personally think this is a bit of a waste, when asparagi are abundant, it’s an excusable crime.
To make it: Wash and chop asparagus into small pieces. In a frying pan with some extra-virgin olive oil, finely chop a fresh onion or two, then add the chopped asparagus and cover to cook for about five minutes. Beat four eggs, add salt and pepper, add to vegetables in pan and cover until cooked. (The version pictured is slightly more complex, involving stirring the egg in the pan, adding cheese and folding, omelette-style but not quite.)
If you’re creating a four-course asparagus-based meal, make this nice vegetarian secondo by combining the green spears with mashed potatoes in a sformato.
To make it: Peel, boil and mash some potatoes. Boil asparagus for 15 minutes until very soft. In a frying pan with extra-virgin olive oil, brown onions, add some herbs (marjoram, rosemary, thyme or whatever you find in your garden), then add your cooked asparagus. In a baking dish, combine potatoes and asparagus, drizzle with oil, top with flaked almonds and bake for 30 minutes at 200°C.
If your springtime bounty also includes snap peas and artichokes (I’ve got a dealer for those, too), you can make garmugia, a cucina povera soup full of nutrients.
How to make it: Read up on Garmugia and follow the recent recipe by Amy Gulick.
Wrap it up
TF culture writer Samantha Vaughn often brings a quiche or torta salata to lunch, and this week hers is, inevitably, asparagus flavoured.
How to make it: Buy short-crust pastry at the supermarket. Boil asparagus for five minutes, chop and mix with ricotta, grated parmesan, salt and pepper. Lay the mixture on the dough and fold however you wish. Bake until cooked through.
My mother in law likes to think ahead. When I asked her what she would do with their allotment of the green stuff, she said she’d be freezing much of it. As I tried this last year and threw it out eight months later, I asked for tips on how to do it properly.
To make it: Boil the still-fresh asparagus for 5 minutes. Put in freezer bags. Consume within six months.
Giacomo, our advertising manager, happens to have a food dehydrator, so while some got used up fresh, he cleaned and chopped most of his stash. We are expecting to look on in envy when he brings in a brilliant dried asparagus risotto next February.
To make it: Buy a food dehydrator (in Italy an essicatore). Wash the asparagus by soaking it in cold water for 30 minutes and brushing it. Cut on a diagonal in small pieces and machine dry for 12-16 hours at 50 degrees. For the harder, white part, separate and dry for 24 hours, and then pulverize to make asparagus powder.