29 March 2012

Wild Asparagus & Pine Nut Frittata and Villa Torlonia in Rome


I love asparagus in every way it's cooked.  For me, it's the first indicator that spring has arrived.  And spring it was!  I had been stalking the vegetable stands for days to see if they are already out.  And I always come out empty handed.

At the beginning of March, I saw some bunches but as I drew closer and saw the price, I was crestfallen.  8 Euros a kilo was too much and clearly means that the ones I am looking at were from the head of the pack.  I decided to wait.  Next occasion I saw some, they were priced at around 4 Euros but underneath the price was written its origin.  Imported.  Sigh.  Asparagus season was starting rather late and I was getting antsy.


Just last Sunday, as we were heading to a park in Rome, we decided to get the ingredients of our impromptu picnic of sandwiches at the supermarket.  For the first time in weeks, I hadn't been thinking of asparagus.  But there they were, in a half-full basket with a sign indicating its price of 4 something Euros and its place of origin.  Italy.  Finally, asparagus season has started.  


Heading towards the weighing scale, I was greeted with an even better surprise.  There was a basket of vegetables that I had been waiting to try.  Wild asparagus.  But for 32 whooping Euros a kilo!   I asked an employee nearby if what I am seeing is correct.  Perhaps they put one zero too many?  He confirmed the exorbitant price. 


I've read and heard so much about them and I was aware that they are expensive but I wasn't expecting them to be excessively priced.  Sigh.  There were three big bunches left in the basket and I didn't want to let go of the chance.  I closed my eyes and got one.  It was 600 grams.  A bigger sigh.  Expensive!  That's a whole lot for vegetables.  


At least I got another one of my favorite cooking crash courses from the person manning the vegetables and a signora (woman) who joined our conversation.  I was told to prepare them in a frittata and risotto.   Those are the best ways to cook them.  I noticed though that the signora didn't buy any.  She must be way smarter than me.  


Taking off my mind about my asparagus parcels carefully insulated by my husband from the heat,  we went to Villa Torlonia for our picnic.  The park was full of families with kids, people of all ages, sprawled out on the grass getting the first rays of the spring sun, and some young people engrossed in reading books (no tablets for once!).  It was a nice atmosphere.  It was definitely a day to stay outdoors for a picnic.  


A bit of history, anyone?  I'll make it short.

Villa Torlonia is a villa with surrounding gardens in Rome.  Its construction started in 1806 owned by the Torlonia family by a neo-Classic architect. 

Mussolini rented it from the Torlonia family for one lira a year in the 1920s.   However, in 1925, the villa was given to him as his state residence where he stayed until 1943.  It was then occupied by the Allied High Command.

After the war, it was abandoned and was left decaying over the decades that followed.  The Municipality of Rome bought it in the 1970s and opened it to the public a year after.  The area was slowly fixed over the years.  Full restoration came about in the 1990s and  put back to its almost original splendor.   


Since the park is big and we were there for a picnic, I wasn't able to go around as much as I would have liked to.  I didn't see the main residence.  Above is the Casina delle Civette (House of the Owls), the informal house of the Torlonia family when they felt like having a break from their formal residence, which is also in the premises.  It is now a museum.


Going home, I put the the wild asparagus in a vase filled with water, like how I do with fresh flowers.  I was told that it's the best way to conserve them if I am not cooking them immediately.  Another method is to wrap them in a moist towel and keep them in the fridge.  The day after, they were still perfect. 

I thought of adding some pine nuts to the frittata to make the taste milder even if I was already advised to drop them in boiling water first for a few minutes to cut the taste.  Wild asparagus has a more intense flavor than the cultivated ones.  You can always skip the boiling part and go straight to sauteing them.  The whole dish takes just a few minutes to compose and it's definitely lip-smacking good.  Buonissima!

I would be sharing the risotto recipe after this.

Buon appetito!


Wild Asparagus & Pine Nut Frittata

Ingredients:
Serves 2

  • 100 g. wild asparagus, weighed after hard part (lower) had been discarded
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
  • handful of pine nuts
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt & pepper

  1. Put water in a tall saucepan (if you have one) gauging the amount of water as almost the same height as the asparagus.  When it boils, put the asparagus vertically with the tips (about 2 cm. from the top) outside the water.  If you don't have a tall saucepan, just use a normal one and lay the asparagus diagonally making sure that the tips are out of the water.  This is because the asparagus tips are the most tender parts and the the stems are harder which need different amounts of time in cooking.  Cook for 5 minutes.  Drain.  Let them cool.
  2. Chop the asparagus coarsely, leaving a few uncut for garnishing. 
  3. Heat little oil in a medium saucepan.  When it's hot, add chopped asparagus.  Cook for about 5 minutes.  Add pine nuts.  Season with salt & pepper. 
  4. Meantime, in a bowl, break eggs and whisk.  Add grated parmigiano reggiano, salt & pepper.  Whisk until well blended.
  5. Pour egg mixture in the saucepan.  Cover.  
  6. When the bottom of the frittata is starting to cook, garnish the top with the asparagus that you put aside.
  7. When it's almost cooked, turn it with the help of the saucepan cover.  Cook for another couple of minutes.  

6 comments:

  1. What a gorgeous frittata and photos! I've never thought to put pine nuts with my eggs, but I love them so I imagine it is delicious. That is definitely pricey for the asparagus but sometimes you just have to splurge on these things! I bet they were amazing.

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    1. Hi Katherine. The pine nuts blended well with the rest of the ingredients, owing it to its mild taste. Thanks!

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  2. How beautiful!!! I mean it for of course fritata, but all of your pictures. Lately I've seen quite number of asparagus recipes and I'm very excited about buying bunch of them. Frittata is my husband's specialty on weekend, and I would love to ask him to make this. We have (sort of old?) pine nuts that I don't know what to use for, so definitely include them!

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  3. Wild asparagus -- bringing me back to my childhood when my parents used to forage for it. Villa Torlonia is a place I always mean to get to when I'm in Rome, but never seem to. Maybe the next trip - at the end of May - I'll make it there.

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    1. It's a nice park, like all the other parks in Rome anyway. We were not able to see the museum though which we will leave for next time. I went to your blog and I saw that you are teaching in Santo Stefano di Sessanio. We went there 2 years ago for Christmas. Beautiful but some parts of the town are still under construction after the earthquake.

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