To find it, you have to dig into the undergrowth. In spring, a small window of opportunity opens in the Val d’Orcia in Tuscany, south of Siena, where you can find the green wild asparagus. It sprouts as soon as the spring sun breaks through in the valley. The team at Hotel Adler Thermae is changing their program during these few weeks. Instead of Italian cooking like at Mom’s, a true rarity is being pursued. For the cooking enthusiasts among the hotel guests there is then the opportunity to collect wild asparagus and prepare the valuable vegetable afterwards immediately in the hotel’s own Tenuta, the vineyard above the hotel.
The harvest of the wild preciousness is clearly more difficult than the subsequent preparation. But only those who know the plant and have trained their eye for it will find it. That’s why Christina Mairhofer, who is responsible for the varied excursion program at Hotel Adler Thermae, has enlisted expert support. Giulio is the asparagus whisperer of Bagno Vignoni.
Together with Christina Mairhofer, Giulio will guide participants through this culinary excursion. The asparagus hunt begins right outside the hotel gates. And it seems so simple. All you have to do is look for the indicator plant.
The woody asparagus herb from the previous year shows us where the young shoots sprout within a radius of about 50 cm around the old plant. So much for the theory. In practice, Giulio makes one find after another with a captivating flair, while we laymen stumble more or less unsuccessfully through the botany.
In Tuscany, wild asparagus is considered an absolute delicacy and is sold at markets as a rarity. The noble vegetable achieves kilo prices of 50 euros. The harvest period lasts only about three weeks. The green asparagus tip, which is the longest exposed to daylight, has slight bitter notes, while the lower part is fresh, green and tender.
After a good two-hour search, we approach Tenuta Sanoner, which is actually just a short walk from the Hotel Adler Thermae. Christina and Giulio are satisfied with the yield and confident that they can also fill the 15 or so participants of the culinary hike with this find.
The Tenuta, is farmed biodynamically and in the greatest possible harmony with nature. The Sangiovese grape is grown in different locations. Already after a few years it has succeeded in producing excellent wines. About 500 olive trees also belong to the estate. The Tenuta Sanoner is a modern building. Similar to the hotel, it blends perfectly into the landscape. Almost invisible from the outside with its rusty-earthy facade, the winery offers a highly modern and straightforward interior on the inside.
To fill up a hungry hiking party and at the same time showcase the rare vegetables well, two classic Italian dishes are suitable: risotto and frittata.
In the open kitchen, we get right to work. The spoils of the morning are washed. Giulio shows us that each spear has a kind of predetermined breaking point. There where it goes from crunchy to woody, at this point the asparagus can be easily broken by hand. The woody ends go into the pot for the asparagus broth. The more noble upper part is put aside.
The majority of the precious asparagus stalks are only added to the risotto much later. After all, the tender stalks should still have a slight bite and their intense asparagus flavor. Giulio’s rule of thumb for the risotto is two handfuls of rice per person.
The rice is added to the prepared pans and also briefly sweated. Then begins what many find so time-consuming about risotto. But with a good glass of Aetos Rosé from the in-house winery, the constant pouring of the risotto becomes a pleasure. This is done ladle by ladle from the large pot of vegetable broth and the cooked asparagus ends.
While most of the hiking group has already taken a seat on the outdoor terrace, Giulio devotes himself to the 24 eggs that are waiting for him in a bowl with salt and parmesan.
When this mass starts to falter, Giulio offers us another true frittata stunt. In real life he has worked for decades as a fireman. So he gets the heavy pan and its contents going almost effortlessly.
An all-around enjoyable excursion with a wonderful finish on the panoramic terrace of Tenuta Sanoner. The perfect place to taste good wines and participate in one of the cooking classes regularly offered there.
Hidden treasure: wild asparagus of Tuscany
In spring, a small window of opportunity opens in the Val d’Orcia in Tuscany, south of Siena, to search for wild green asparagus. Asparagus acutifolius, from the asparagus family, is the official name. Wild asparagus grows in olive groves and feels at home near certain tree species such as oak. The woody asparagus weed from the previous year indicates where the young shoots sprout within a radius of about 50 cm around the old plant. But despite these clues, the collector needs a trained eye to find the very narrow mostly strong green plant shoots in the undergrowth. The wild asparagus grows as soon as the spring sun asserts itself in the Val d’Orcia.
How much does wild asparagus cost?
Wild asparagus is considered a delicacy in Tuscany and is sold at markets as a rarity. The noble vegetable achieves kilo prices of 50 euros. The harvest period is two weeks and in good years three weeks. In Tuscany there are many collectors who specialize in asparagus in the spring and truffles in the winter.
How does wild asparagus taste?
The green asparagus tip, which is the longest exposed to daylight, has slight bitter notes, while the lower part is fresh, green and tender. Wild asparagus is more intense in flavor than cultivated asparagus. It has a slightly bitter to spicy note and is distinctly aromatic and strong in taste. Thanks to the intensity of flavor, even small quantities are sufficient for preparation in the kitchen. Thus, wild asparagus turns a simple omelet into a culinary feast. Another classic is the asparagus risotto with wild asparagus.
Our work is inspired by human encounters and always culinary discoveries. What format do you need? A newsworthy report, an entertaining feature, a short travel tip or an image gallery? At the international photo agency Alamy you can view all of Georg Berg’s photos of wild asparagus. Clicking on one of the images below will take you directly to the agency image.
Wild asparagus photos of Tuscany, Val d’Orcia, Italy
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Follow up by Angela Berg
What else I learned while preparing wild asparagus with asparagus whisperer Guilio? Carefully palpate the individual spear and where it transitions from crunchy to woody, at this point the asparagus is easy to break by hand. The woody ends go into the pot for the asparagus broth. The fine part is folded into the risotto much later. So the intense flavor is not lost and some bite is also desired.
The cost of half board was not calculated by the hotel