|Stalker of the wild asparagus. (Photo by Ben Searl)|
Ben returned from a hike with a bunch of wild asparagus, foraged from hillsides abloom with wildflowers.
Wild asparagus—sometimes called esparragos trigueros, because it often grows on the verges of wheat fields—makes spindly stalks that pop up in the spring in sunny spaces, often beside irrigation ditches or near stream beds. Hidden amongst taller weeds, the stalks can sometimes be spotted by the yellowing, ferny foliage from the previous year.
Wild asparagus can be tender or fibrous, sweet or bitter. It seems to depend on how mature the stalks are—as the tips begin to open, the stalks become more fibrous; how cool and damp the weather is, and the length of time from cutting to eating. Since any bunch of foraged asparagus is likely to range from one extreme to the other, I usually blanch all the spears before proceeding to cook them.
In Andalusia, the favorite way to prepare wild asparagus is in a tortilla or revuelto, scrambled with eggs, sometimes with the addition of a little chopped serrano ham. The asparagus also is cooked in a sauce made with a maja’o, or majado, a “mash” of bread, garlic and spices crushed in the mortar. The recipe, called “esparragado,” or “asparagussed,” is used for other vegetables, such as chard, wild thistle stems (tagarninas), cardoons, or wild silene leaves (collejas). It often is finished with eggs—fried or poached—on top of the vegetables. While usually vegetarian, the dish can be embellished with bits of ham or chorizo.
My Esparragado includes wild and cultivated asparagus, small artichokes and sugar snaps from my garden, shelled peas and potatoes. With eggs cooked in the cazuela, it becomes a main dish.
|Asparagus and other vegetables are sautéed first, then cooked in a sauce. Eggs poached in the casserole finish the dish.|
|With an egg on top, the vegetables make a main dish. Croutons of fried bread add crunch.|
|I've used both skinny wild and thicker cultivated asparagus in this dish.|
Asparagus Casserole with Spring Vegetables
Cazuela de Esparragos Esparragados
For the cooking liquid, use chicken or vegetable stock or simply water. Use either smoked or regular pimentón (paprika). Chopped serrano ham, panceta or bacon is a nice addition. Omit it for a vegetarian version.
You can finish the casserole with one egg per person or use fewer eggs and mix them into the vegetables before serving. Croutons of fried bread add crunch to the vegetable melange.
I’ve got a few small (tiny) artichokes from the garden, so I’m cooking them whole. If using medium or large artichokes, cut them into quarters or smaller segments. Snap off several layers of outer leaves, scoop out the fuzzy chokes and drop the artichokes right into the oil in the cazuela. No need to put them in lemon water.
20 ounces asparagus (3 cups cut up)
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 slices bread, crusts removed
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup chopped onion
2 ounces chopped pancetta, ham or bacon (optional)
1 teaspoon pimentón (paprika)
½ teaspoon cumin
1-2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 medium artichokes, quartered
2 medium potatoes
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups stock or water
1 cup shelled peas, sugar snap peas or fava beans
Snap off and discard the butt-ends of the asparagus. Cut the stalks into 1-inch pieces. If using wild asparagus, which sometimes is fairly bitter, blanch it in boiling salted water for 2 minutes and drain.
Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a cazuela or deep skillet. Fry the slices of bread and garlic until they are golden. Remove them and reserve.
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan. Sauté the onions and pancetta, if using, until onion is softened, 5 minutes. Stir in the cut-up asparagus and fry for 2 minutes. Stir in the pimentón and cumin. Add the vinegar and cook 1 minute. Add the artichokes and potatoes, peeled and cut into small pieces. Season with salt and pepper. Add 1 ½ cups of the stock or water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and cook, covered, until asparagus is tender, 15 minutes.
Break up one slice of fried bread into a blender with the fried garlic. Add the remaining ½ cup of the stock or water and blend to make a smooth paste. Stir the paste into the pan with the vegetables. Add the peas. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook, covered, stirring frequently, until sauce is thickened and vegetables are cooked.
Break eggs into a small bowl, one by one, and slide them into the pan. Cover and simmer until whites are set but yolks still runny.
|Croutons of fried bread.|
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