“You are kidding, right?” I asked my aunt in total disbelief. Since the beginning of February I had been trying to connect with wild asparagus foragers who would graciously show me the ropes and, more importantly, the right places. So when my aunt offered to take me along on an expedition in my very own backyard, I picked up my little basket and trotted along.
In Languedoc foraging for young tender things is almost as big a sport as rugby. But you must know where. I know a chef who gathers purslane on very specific dry stone walls holding the garden terraces around his village. At a recent lunch at their home, Alain and Jocelyne Jougla served, along with a perfectly juicy guinea hen, a watercress salad so vibrant and delicate in flavor and texture, it bore no relation to any watercress I ever had. “We pick it in ditches around here,” offered Alain while his wife quickly corrected “not any old ditch; you have to be careful. This watercress grows along a very clean fresh water spring.”
Following my aunt around the park that surrounds my house, I was stunned at first to realize that what I had disregarded for years as webs of ugly prickly shrubs were actually asparagus ferns. I guess I have been a city dweller far too long! Then I found out that hunting for wild asparagus is not that easy, as they can be quite elusive and have a great talent to hide among and beneath bushes and weeds. They can also shoot up as high as 4 ft and sneer at you willowing in the sun as you take a break from crawling. I did manage (with the help of my aunt) to harvest enough for a light supper.
Wild asparagus are a lot milder than their domesticated counterparts and have a slight pleasing bitterness. The thin stalks are tough and fibrous, and should be discarded. The tips are usually steamed and tossed in light vinaigrette; omelets or scrambled eggs are also classic preparations. I saw a recipe for a soufflé — I think I’ll try it with my next “harvest.” That night, I kept it simple.
Scrambled Eggs with Wild Asparagus
- 1 cup wild asparagus tips or pencil asparagus
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 5 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon milk
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon minced chives
- 4 ounces smoked salmon
Blanch the asparagus tips in boiling salted water for 1 minute. Drain and refresh with cold water.
Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and sauté for a couple of minutes until translucent. Add the asparagus tips and continue cooking over medium-low heat for 4 to 5 minutes, until they are tender.
Beat the egg with the milk, salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into the skillet and cook over low heat for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring gently with a wooden spoon. The eggs should be just set and very creamy. Cook a couple of minutes longer if you prefer them drier.
Sprinkle with chives and serve with the smoked salmon on the side.