No other vegetable symbolizes spring in Emilia Romagna more than the prized ‘asparago verde di Altedo’ (green asparagus of Altedo), which, some time in April, when the temperature is neither too cold nor too hot, start to appear on the bare and earthy fields that dot the plains between Bologna and Ferrara north of the Via Emilia, the 2,000-year-old Roman road that crosses Emilia-Romagna diagonally north-west to south-east.
The asparagus produced in this area were already renowned in Roman times; they were considered so exquisite to be even sent to Rome, wrapped one by one in a special paper that helped preserve their freshness.
Originally from Asia, asparagus have been grown in Italy for so long that they’ve become spontaneous in the woods and pine forests of the Adriatic coast (asparago selvatico or wild asparagus) near Ferrara.
- Never been to Ferrara? Here’s how to enjoy it on a day trip from Bologna.
The ‘asparago verde di Altedo’ (Altedo is one of the main centers of production of this vegetable, located about 20 kilometers from Bologna) carries the IGP label (Indicazione Geografica Protetta, or PGI, Protected Geographical Indication in English), which is a quality recognition given to certain food products whose characteristics depend on the specific geographical area where they are produced, processed and/or transformed. In the case of the asparago verde, the area comprises the mostly sandy and clay soils found north of Bologna towards the province of Ferrara, the Adriatic coast and the Po delta. Because it is so tied to the terrain and to the season, the asparago verde di Altedo is only harvested in April and May.
Every year on the third and fourth Sunday in May, Altedo celebrates its most famous production with an asparagus-dedicated festival, the Sagra dell’Asparago Verde di Altedo.
Not only is the asparago verde di Altedo tasty, with an unmistakable flavor, stronger in the stem, sweeter in the tips; it also has excellent nutritional value, being rich in vitamins A and C, potassium, iron, calcium, folic acid; it also has diuretic properties and anti-inflammatory effects. Its health benefits were praised even in ancient medical texts: it was believed that asparagus helped detoxify the kidneys and that the smell produced by urine was precisely the effect of purifying the body; their roots were considered a cure for toothache, their extracted oil a repellent for bees (let’s re-learn from the ancients not to waste any part of our vegetables!).
The asparago verde is used in several local recipes, especially with primi (first courses), such as risotto and tagliatelle, and as a side dish to meat and seafood, in which case it is steamed, then dressed with olive oil, salt and lemon. National classics (not specific to Emilia-Romagna) include frittata con gli asparagi and asparagi al burro.
- Learn about traditional tagliatelle from Bologna: click here.
Below are examples of recipes specific to Emilia-Romagna, which make use of other local products besides the asparagus:
- Risotto all’asparago verde di Altedo con vongole veraci: this recipe uses local products such as clams caught in the Adriatic Sea, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and olive oil from Brisighella, a Romagna town;
- Risotto di asparagi e zucca violina: this recipe uses a type of pumpkin typical of Ferrara, known for its bright orange pulp, sweet and firm.
- Tagliatelle con gli asparagi: tagliatelle is a typical handmade egg pasta of Emilia-Romagna, especially Bologna. This is one of my favorite recipes with asparagus because I love tagliatelle, plus it’s quick and easy to prepare. (Recipe below photo).
Clean the asparagus, removing the end part of the stems (the hardest), then chop in pieces separating the tips; boil the stem pieces for about 10 minutes in a saucepan, adding the tips after about 5 minutes, so they stay crunchy. Sauté the chopped onion with butter or extra virgin olive oil, then add the boiled asparagus and sauté for an additional 5 minutes.
Cook the tagliatelle al dente, drain and season them in the pan with the asparagus, adding a little bit of butter and the grated Parmigiano.
Et voilà, a taste of spring in Emilia-Romagna is served!