Monday, May 14, 2012

Wild Asparagus and Greens Pasta (Wild, Natural foods take 2)

Springtime is a great time for foraging in Malta.  There are plenty of delicious and healthy options to find just on your weekend walk in the countryside (and sometimes, even just walking around residential areas!)
Happy Spaghetti sauce :)

Wild asparagus is a fantastic plant. It's a spiky, prickly bush with needle like leaves, and to the untrained (read: mine, until this weekend) eye, looks NOTHING like Asparagus. Until springtime.  It then sends new shoots out, and this is what you need to look for!  They are the typical "asparagus" look.  Simply snap them off and nomnom!  asparagus time!  I had no idea that the ubiquitous plant that seems to be EVERYWHERE in Malta was actually Asparagus, and it certainly was a wonderful discovery, especially as since then, I seem to find it wherever I look!
Hard to believe this is what asparagus looks like right?  you only eat the new shoots, this plant is too late for that!
Wild Chard is also known as Wild Spinach in Malta.  It looks more like spinach in the sense that it doesn't have red stems (as i'm used to the baby leaves of Swiss chard), and the leaves grow very similar to spinach.  It is less tender when it's grown up a bit (as i found it) so it needs to be cooked, however if you find the leaves at their young phase, you can eat them raw in salads etc.
Wild asparagus shoots aren't as thick as store bought, but the flavour is so lovely, intense and FRESH!  Wild chard, delicious and tender when cooked :)
Please note, if you are unable to forage and collect your own, you can use regular store bought asparagus and any edible leafy greens - spinach, kale or chard would work best, but you can use anything that you can cook really :)
Fresh garlic.  Nothing like it at all :D  so good!

Having collected a decent amount, but still not much (remember that any green leafy vegetable shrinks considerably with cooking) so I decided to make a pasta sauce with them.  On the way home I bought some fresh garlic and remembered that I had some delicious home made proper (i.e. ewe's milk) gbejniet in the fridge, as well as some beautiful organically grown Greek Olive oil.
Note the smooth looking slices.  This is a well made ewes milk unpasteurised gbejna. 
This dish takes barely any time from start to end, so prepare and chop everything before you start cooking (while the pasta water is boiling).

Ok, you will need:

Some greens (in this case, I used Chard, but you can use spinach, kale, beetroot leaves, kohl rabi leaves, any green leafy veggie that can be cooked)
Asparagus (I used wild, but you could use store bought), chopped into 2-3 inch pieces
Garlic (I used fresh garlic bulbs, but you can use regular garlic)
Any fresh herbs you might have running around - parsley, basil and thyme are my favourites at this point!
A semi hard Goat/sheep cheese (I used traditional Maltese sheep peppered gbejna but you can use pretty much any cheese you like)
Olive oil
About 100g of pasta per person (i use wholemeal).  I would always choose spaghetti but you can have any shape at all with this sauce. 

Put the pasta water on to boil.
While the water is coming to a boil, chop the leaves into decent sized pieces (remember they will shrink considerably, so just tearing them in  half should do the trick), chop the garlic, slice the cheese and the asparagus.

As soon as you've thrown the pasta into the boiling water (remember to salt the water WELL, around a tablespoon of rock salt should do it), Add the garlic to a fry pan with some olive oil.  Try and use a fry pan that will take all the pasta in, as you'll need to add it into the sauce. 
Nothing quite like fresh garlic stems
Stir until just soft (do not allow to get brown) and add the leaves and asparagus in, toss around for a couple of minutes until the leaves have wilted slightly. 
Add a ladle full of the pasta water into the sauce, and simmer for a minute.  Season to taste and add the roughly chopped fresh herbs.  The sauce is now done.

Cook the pasta for 2 minutes LESS than the directions, and when draining, reserve about a cup of the liquid.  Add the pasta to the frying pan, with some of the liquid, and keep tossing until the liquid is absorbed, and the pasta is cooked.  Add more water if necessary, but don't add the whole amount in one go just in case it's too much.  This will help the pasta absorb the flavour of the really simply but lovely sauce.
Before the addition of the cheese
Serve into bowls, and top with the cheese, and extra grated parmesan/pecorino if you like.  And a massive drizzle of the best quality Extra virgin olive oil you can get your hands on.
Ready to nomnom!

Enjoy!! :)



  1. This is very much a staple pasta dish in our house, not necessarily with asparagus and chard, but any green leafies and sometimes zucchini, or a bit of leftover pesto, it's a great way to use up veggies and bits of cheese. It's to die for with the addition of rocket pesto and a creamy french cheese like brie :D mmmm

  2. Looks really good! The fresh garlic looks like what I call call spring onions o_O

    I never saw wild asparagus in Malta!

    1. Cola the asparagus is EVERYWHERE!! just only puts out new shoots for a few weeks in feb/March!

      Re the garlic, In Maltese this is "tewm twil" but salad onions look very similar, just bigger- of course once you open them up the garlic has little cloves, while the onion is like a regular onion. This fresh garlic is getting a little large, in fact it's no longer available as fresh garlic any longer, as the cloves have grown big enough to use separately.

      Spring onions (they look like mini leeks):

      Salad onions (they are much sweeter and milder, and grow quite large and kinda flat:

  3. M'ghandix dubju li l-ikel tajjeb imma ir-ritratti tal-genn! (just stumbled onto your blog - really nice blog! :-)

    1. Thanks Ruth! sorry for the late reply i completely missed this!!!