Although this recipe is not originally Italian inspired, it certainly has been a staple in our Anglo-Italian house in the spring months when wild asparagus is so abundant.
Truth be told, I first made this recipe when I was about 7 years old, after watching yet another Delia Smith episode from my mother's bed and deciding that I could do it too.
My mother took us (my little sister and I) off to the grocery shops to gather the ingredients. Asparagus from the greengrocer was the easy part. Finding quail’s eggs was slightly more challenging. I believe we had to order them in at the butchers in our little village.
The morning had arrived and we had everything. I had the recipe copied out on a piece of paper after rewatching Delia at least 10 times (thank goodness the VHS was sturdy!) before embarking on the task.
Needless to say, it was a hit and became a staple in our house for almost every mother’s day, father’s day, or a moment when my mother was happy that we took over the kitchen.
Fast-forward to 2015, when I had my first spring in Italy. Wandering through the olive-grove is always healing for the spirit. After the winter of grey-green and fog (yes Verona is famous for its fog: nebbia), you are ready for those bright days that are getting longer, and the green with all of the wildflowers.
One morning I said that I would love to get some asparagus from the shops to follow on the tradition in our new home. Instead, Fabio said that we would get wild ones. I was somewhat sceptical, as picking things in the wild had somewhat been a taboo in our house, so that we would all make it past the age of 15 without poisoning ourselves. However, I was curious. Wild asparagus would be very Delia-esque.
So, wellies on, as it had drizzled the night before, glove on (for picking), an old wooden stick (to scare the snakes away… not what I had in mind), and a wicker basket on my arm - we set off.
Looking under the olive trees, and on the stone walls, I had to get a custom to what I was looking for… there were these prickly branches, and then from the ground - I found my first wild asparagus. Much skinnier than the ones we bought in the shop. Every time you wanted to pick them you had to tap the ground/rocks around so that nothing questionable would be around when you picked.
“Lucy, the branches are the asparagus plant…” Was the explanation after I thought I had been so clever to find them… oh well, you learn something new every day!
After about an hour or so wandering back and forth through the olive grove, and thankfully no snake sightings, we came across an elderly couple who were doing the same thing. We got the approving nod (even though they were on our land?). In Italy, the concept of personal space and property is very different from Canada.
That evening, recreating the dish was very lethargic, and made me feel more at home than I had in a while. It is incredible how food can bring you back, bring you together, and shape so many memories that we have.
Delia Inspired Asparagus and Quail’s Eggs
1 handful of fresh asparagus per person (wild or bought, as long as it is fresh)
2-3 quails eggs per person (I have tried hen eggs, but it is just not the same)
Parmesan cheese (to shave on top as garnish)
Wash your asparagus, and break off the woody stalks (or chop about ⅓ from the bottom).
Heat up a frying pan with 1-2 tbsp of olive oil. Add the asparagus in when the pan is hot. I prefer to put a lid on to control the spitting of the oil. Cook until just tender, but still with a bite (test with a fork that they are tender).
Add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar (1-2 tsp) and mix in the pan). Turn off, or keep on a low heat so it stays warm.
For the eggs, if using quails eggs (which is highly recommended), heat another pan with a bit of olive oil. To break a quails egg, Delia says, use a serrated knife at the middle of the egg to create a break about ½ way through the egg, then you can “crack” as normal into the pan. It takes a little practice but is the best way to keep the yokes intact.
When the eggs are cooked to your liking, it is time to plate up. Asparagus first, with whatever reduction is left of the balsamic vinegar, in a bunch on the plate. Eggs on top. And then with a potato-peeler, shave parmesan on top, as much as each person likes. Fresh cracked black pepper on top, and serve.