Sometimes something simple makes you step back and focus. For the Accidental Locavore, it was hunting wild asparagus in Istria. There, wild asparagus are everywhere, but if you’re not looking you can easily walk past acres of them. Our hunt started in Golaš, by the winery San Tommaso. We got a briefing from Goran and Janja on how to pick them (snap off from just above the ground) and learned that the harpoon-like tool he picked up wasn’t for asparagus, but snakes – never a good sign!
Wandering out towards the woods, we passed by beautiful clumps of iris, growing wild by old stone walls. Further out in the countryside, Goran showed us what to look for. Usually there are feathery clumps of greenery, like its cultivated cousin. Then you have to really focus in and look for the elusive spears. In the wild, asparagus is well camouflaged. It blends in and looks like grass. I don’t think I ever found a green spear, just purple ones because they stood out a little from the rest. Goran and Janja just cruised along stopping every couple of feet to pick a stalk or two. After a while, when you’ve really begun to focus in, it does become easier and then you start to see them everywhere. Luckily, the same could not be said for snakes!
When we had a nice bunch we headed back to the winery to prepare them. Once rinsed, Janja told us to snap off the tips and the next section (about an inch or two). That made a nice bowlful that was split between two dishes. Sneaking a nibble, I noticed that they were much more bitter than the larger, cultivated ones we get, but still tasting like asparagus.
First up: scrambled eggs with wild asparagus, bacon and Parmesan. The asparagus was cooked in the fat from the bacon and set aside. Once the (dozen) farm-fresh eggs were scrambled the bacon and asparagus were added back in and topped with cheese. Paired with a Malvazija, it was a well-deserved and delicious dish!
Next up: risotto with wild asparagus. This time, onions were sautéed in local olive oil and the rice added. Much stirring and twenty minutes later, the asparagus went in and a sprinkle of Parmesan finished off the dish. The rice was perfectly al dente and the asparagus gave a nice, slightly bitter bite to the dish that was offset by the cheese. A Terran, the local red grape, was the perfect accompaniment.
We don’t often get to forage for our food and thankfully we don’t need to. However, sometimes it’s good to put aside the big city malaise of going, going, going and take time and regard the surroundings. Who knows what you’ll find?
If you’re interested, San Tommaso does tours and other lunches when asparagus aren’t in season. Pasta with truffles and charcuterie are some of the other choices. They’re flexible and Janja will work with you to make it memorable (but the asparagus are a really good reason to go in the spring!).