Asparagus foraging

Wild asparagus

Wild asparagus

I’m back! Our plane got in yesterday from New York and I am still on a high from the trip; however, a couple of days before we left for our US adventure Shelly and I went wild asparagus foraging. It was so much fun, so I want to tell you about it before I get carried away with NY.

Has anyone else foraged for wild asparagus? The season isn’t very long and you know when it has started because a lot of the older folk start walking up into the hills, carrying plastic bags and walking around the fields with their hands behind their backs, bending over inspecting the ground. Shelly and I weren’t exactly sure what we were looking for, or where to find it, however, the day before we went forging my landlady pointed out that we had two wild asparagus growing in our garden: perfect!

I didn’t know where to find it, however, Shelly had asked an elderly Italian guy what to look for when foraging asparagus and he pointed out a spiky bush and mumbled something about ‘look out for this stuff,’ and then hurried back into the fields (I think the locals would rather we didn’t know about it…makes sense really).

With the minimal information gathered (but  plastic bags forgotten), we set out on a beautiful Thursday morning walk with the sun beating down on our bodies and hope in our hearts. We were wandering around one of our old haunts talking about what we should be looking for, when all of a sudden we stopped, scanned the nearest area and, lo and behold, I spotted one lone asparagus! I’m not going to lie, we were excited. Shelly couldn’t yet see them, however, when I spotted another and another she soon caught on and we were off with our hands behind our backs and our eyes glued to the ground.

wild asparagus foraging

wild asparagus foraging

At first we just grabbed all that we could see not really looking at quality. It wasn’t until we came across a few brown-red ones with a very crisp ‘snap’ that we decided some of the ones we were picking might be a little old and gone to seed. However, that didn’t stop us from looting more from a farmers field! As you can see in the photo above they are very easy to miss and shoot up on their own around the small prickly green bush that Shelly is holding back.

A big batch under an olive tree

A big batch under an olive tree

We were wandering around in this field for about an hour happily picking away when we heard a dog barking. Our first thought was to ignore it, that was until the barking came closer and closer. For a few minutes Shelly and I thought it might of been the farmer coming to shoo us off the property, fortunately, it was just an elderly gentleman walking his dog up our road.

He knew right away what we were doing and complimented us on our forage. We had a small chat with him and then he started breaking into words Shelly and I didn’t recognise, we had a feeling he was giving us a recipe for the asparagus but that was for the ‘too hard basket’, so we gently said goodbye and took our stash further up the hill.

Of course we were buzzing with excitement and dying to try the wild asparagus, so I offered to cook it for lunch. After finishing our walk in the hills I popped a pot of water on for some poached eggs. Once the asparagus was washed and trimmed I simply melted butter on a low heat, added sliced garlic, asparagus, salt and pepper and gently sauteed until cooked.

Sauteing wild asparagus with butter and garlic

Sauteing wild asparagus with butter and garlic

The smells were fantastic and the asparagus darkened to a very deep green as the stalks became tender. Once they were cooked, I poached a couple of eggs, added a generous sprinkling of truffle salt and finished it with slices of pecorino cheese. The end result was fantastic!

Poached eggs with wild asparagus

Poached eggs with wild asparagus

The truffle hit your nose as soon as you sat down and cutting into the egg letting the yolk run through the asparagus was pure heaven. Not much talking was done while we still had food on our plates. The flavours all infused beautifully and enhanced the asparagus. To say we loved it would be an understatement. No wonder the Italians didn’t want us knowing the secret places to forage, it really is a wonderful spring treat if your lucky enough to lay your hands on some.

Finished with slices of pecoreno cheese

Finished with slices of pecorino cheese

 

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Monday Fun-day

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Santuario di Monte Senario

Mondays are my longest time without the kids. They go to school at 8.30am and I don’t have to pick them up until 4.30pm. Normally I use my time pottering around the house: doing the housework, shopping, reading etc.  Nothing really exciting or out of the ordinary. I know I should go and discover the surrounds but to be honest I have more fun doing it with friends so I usually wait until someone has a few hours to spare and meet up with them. Mondays are house days…until today.

After the kids were dropped off at school and I’d chatted to my parents in Australia, I was just getting ready to put some tunes on and pull out the mop when my friend Ross texted and asked if I was up for a hiking expedition- hell yes! It was arranged that I would meet him in 10 minutes and we would take off on a trail and see what we could find. The housework could wait another day. As I ran down our path to meet him (it’s about 100m) I noticed he was in his car, hmmm. ‘Let’s have an adventure’ were his words as he handed me his trail guide book, all written in Italian. Ross’s Italian is much better than mine, however, both our partners are fellows at I Tatti and do most of the talking/reading when out in public; so whatever we were going to do was sure to be an adventure whether we liked it or not!

We decided to go somewhere we had never been and see more of the Tuscan countryside that was laid before us. Our direction was toward a little village called Bivigliano. Woohoo, let the fun begin!

Bivigliano is about a 15-20 minute drive from Fiesole (or 18km from Florence) along winding, narrow roads that give you a staggering view of the Tuscan landscape. It was a magnificent day to be out in the woods, quite a turn around from the weekend of torrential rain. Arriving in Bivigliano is like arriving at many Italian villages, blink and you could miss it; therefore, our plan was to park the car and take a walk up to Santuario di Monte Senario. In classic Ross and Camilla style, we didn’t actually have a map. However, we pulled up in a clearing, saw a red and white marker, decided it was in the general direction of Monte Senario and decided to take it and see what happened.

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Ross on track 65

Ross was sporting the ‘trendy hiker’ look, while I was going for more of a runner/hiker don’t-have-a-shower-or-brush-your-hair kind of look. The track was muddy and slippery and we loved every minute of it. After a few good uphill climbs we came across a track and had to decided which direction we would take. I was more inclined to trust Ross’s sense-of-direction as I have not a clue and would have walked for hours in circles!

Upon finding more red and white markers and hoping they led to our destination, we were in luck as we came to a road that looked like it was leading up to something a little bit fabulous.

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As the mist creeps in

After following it for a few hundred metres we fell upon the beautiful sight of Monte Senario!

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The beautiful steps of Monte Senario

This place was amazing! The sky opened up and pushed the clouds away for us to see the most spectacular views around and the best part was, we were the only people there!

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Breathtaking views of Tuscany

This is just a small glimpse of the 360 degree view, and here is a little more…

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A sight you can never get sick of looking at

Just to make sure we were definitely there, we did the only thing you can do…a selfie!

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The glamping selfie

After wandering around the Monastery and their lush grounds (looking for the grotto to no avail), we decided it was time to head back in the direction we came and see if we could, in fact, find the car!! 

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Trail 65…we are back on track

Not only did we find Trail 65 but we also (well, Ross spotted it first) found a natural spring running under our trail. Adventurous hikers that we are, decided to go down and take a better look. You forget how beautiful the sound of birds, stillness and running water can sound without the hum of traffic and city noise in the background.

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Fresh water spring just off our trail

Now, if I was out hiking by myself I would have finished my hike and gone back home, had a shower and made myself a sandwich for lunch. However, I forgot who I was hiking, or should I say ‘glamping,’ with (note my reference to his trendy hiking gear and my throw-together, dirty look in the beginning!).

“Let’s get some lunch” was the comment Ross dropped as we approached the car. At this point I was hungry, dirty, muddy and on a high from our adventure so I agreed that was a great idea. However, I thought we were going on a regular hike so I didn’t bring anything with me except my house keys. This didn’t matter to Ross, after all he looked like he could be seen in public!

It was decided we would venture over to a town called Pratolino. Ross was looking at this village the day before from a friend’s house across the valley and wanted to know what it was like (fair enough). It took us about 10 minutes to arrive and another 5 minutes to find a restaurant and park the car. 

Zocchi was our restaurant of choice, because of the fantastic panoramic views that were before us. Not expecting anything amazing we were pleasantly surprised with our lunch. We started with a delicious vegetarian crostini (forgot to take a photo…too hungry) that had a tomato bruschetta and a porcini bruschetta and also a fried polenta chip doused with more porcini mushrooms in olive oil and garlic…delicious!

Ross ended up having the homemade spinach ravioli with gorgonzola and walnut sauce

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Ravioli with gorgonzola and walnut sauce

While I was very excited to have homemade tagliatelle tossed with butter and shaved truffles…

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Shaved truffle butter pasta

 

The meal was fantastic and just what a couple of hikers needed after a morning in the woods of Tuscany.

I couldn’t have asked for a better day and to top it off with a delicious lunch of shaved truffle pasta and tiramisu (did I forget to mention that?), well it doesn’t get much better. Ross and I decided we should try to persuade our academic partners to perhaps take a morning off and have a Monday fun-day with us the next time we go for a hike. However, I will remember it’s more of a glamour hike when Ross is involved and will dress appropriately…with cash in my pockets!