Umbria is often referred to as the ‘green heart of Italy’ on account of its verdant, rolling hills dotted with ancient hill towns such as Assisi, Perugia, Orvieto, Spoleto, Todi, Spello and Gubbio, all of them quietly embraced by ancient vineyards and olive groves. Here, Spring heralds the arrival of the wild asparagus season, a time of year that is as highly anticipated in Italy as the first shoots of wild garlic are in the UK. Now, the Italians love to forage; not because it’s fashionable to do so but because it is traditionally the way that countryfolk supplemented a meagre pantry using highly quality, nutritious and seasonal ingredients. The (somewhat romantic) term used to describe this practice is ‘cucina povera’ or the ‘the kitchen of the poor’ but foraging is actually a way of life in the Italian countryside and long may it continue to be this way. So, for a few short weeks, you will see all the little nonnas quietly scurrying about amongst the hillsides and dusty pathways with baskets full of the thin green, delicately flavoured stems. Because asparagus grows pretty much all over the country, each region has its own recipe but, in my view, the less you mess with it, the better it tastes. However, to my surprise, I recently discovered that asparagus can also stand much bigger flavours such as this punchy balsamic and caper dressing. Serve gently steamed spears with Pecorino di Fossa cheese (local to Assisi), a dish of garlic-stuffed olives, crusty bread and a chilled glass of Trebbiano wine.
x1 bunch of asparagus, woody stems removed
1 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp capers, rinsed
Shavings of Pecorino di Fossa or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste
How I make it
Steam the asparagus until just tender, about 4-5 minutes.
Toss with the olive oil, balsamic vinegar and capers.
Season well and scatter with a few parmesan shavings.
I often serve steamed English asparagus with my Mallorcan Caper & Sultana Dressing.