The arrival of spring is eagerly awaited by all nature lovers and especially by the enthusiastic wild asparagus searchers who seek this shoot to be the basis of many tasty recipes. These gastronomic traditions have resulted in the Festival of Wild Asparagus or “Sbaragagli” in Acuto, a village of Ciociaria between Rome and Fiuggi.
Asparagus has always been recognized as a curative, detoxifying, slimming and rebalancing plant. Wild asparagus is smaller and tastier than the common cultivated asparagus and is gathered from the asparagus plant: a small bushy evergreen plant, with characteristic spines at the base, from which the shoots grow.
So the asparagus is not a fruit but the young shoot of the plant that comes from the underground network and that, if not collected, is transformed into a new stem of the plant. Wild asparagus is a fairly rare species found in the woods, and sometimes in orchards and old olive groves, in central Italy. The young and edible sprouts of the asparagus can be harvested for about a month.
Wild asparagus have an intense flavour, very strong and bitter. One tradition suggests consuming the first raw asparagus harvest on site.
If you decide to look for asparagus, bring a stick with you to beat the bushes before venturing with your hands to look for the shoots. And good advice! If you do not want to venture into the woods you can often buy from stands along the roads or during the food and wine festivals.
The setting of the festival in the village of Acuto has been enlivened by music and the Saltarello, the dance par excellence of this area, with the talented musicians and dancers of the Folk Group of Città di Acuto or musical groups such as Radici Popolari that bewitch the audience playing ancient instruments.
It is a festival different from the others. In fact, on the days before the festival many volunteers collect wild asparagus on the mountains of Acuto and ladies provide sheets to spread to make kilos of fettuccine. Even children during the festival have the opportunity to try their hand at preparing fettuccine by participating in the “Mani in pasta” (handmade pasta) workshop.
It was important the ancient flavours and recipes have been rediscovered, such as “Fettuccine with tomato, asparagus and pancetta”, “Paccheri with asparagus and shrimp” and dishes with the traditional omelette and fresh or aged pecorino of Acuto. A unique contribution comes from the great Chef Salvatore Tassa, known for his link with the area, that elaborates his own recipes including those of some dishes made with cream of asparagus.
On the occasion of a visit in spring you can take a walk on the mountain of Acuto, around the pond Volubro Suso in search of wild asparagus.