Spring in Umbria is a wonderful time with such seasonal vegetables as fava beans, peas, and artichokes making their way into our local produce markets. One of the most wonderful local things to sprout along roadways and in the fields at this time of the year, is wild asparagus.
Regular cultivated asparagus bolts in May, but the wild variety pops up a little earlier. When we return to Umbria each year at the end of April we see old Nonna’s walking up and down the street poking their sticks into the shrubs looking for this hidden treasure.
Wild asparagus is more slender and tender than the cultivated variety, and a bit more subtle in flavor than the garden variety. The stalks are quite woody though so in general when preparing wild asparagus, simply use only the parts that can be easily cut with a knife.
We recently had a big handful of wild asparagus I needed to use up, so I decided to try something different. I blanched it until it was tender crisp, then I cut off and reserved the tips, and pureed the tender parts of the stalks with cream and a little Pecorino cheese.
I made a batch of my favorite ricotta gnocchi, and tossed it in the sauce along with the reserved tips. This dish had a lovely asparagus flavor and was so pretty to serve with its soft green color. I added some diced pancetta that I fried up separately just to add another layer of flavor, but you could easily skip that step if you wanted to keep the recipe vegetarian. Of course this recipe can be made with regular cultivated asparagus and it would be just as delicious!
I prefer making ricotta gnocchi as I find them lighter in texture and much quicker to prepare than the potato variety. See my in depth instructions of How To Make Gnocchi Step by Step. As with any simple dish, choosing the best ingredients is important.
When buying ricotta cheese, choose fresh if at all possible, but if not, choose whole milk ricotta, not reduced fat. I have tried multiple flours, including tipo ’00′ (cake flour) and semolina, but I find all-purpose flour works best for me.
For The Gnocchi:
- 1 Pound Full Fat Ricotta
- 1 1/2 Cups All-purpose Flour
- 1/3 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
- 1 Large Egg
- 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
For The Sauce:
- 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
- 1/3 Cup Finely Diced Pancetta
- 1 Bunch Asparagus (about 1 Pound), Woody Ends Trimmed & Cut Into 2 Inch Pieces
- 1 Cup Heavy Cream
- 1 Garlic Clove, Minced
- 1/3 Cup Grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan Cheese
- Salt & Pepper To Taste
- Additional Grated Pecorino or Parmesan Cheese
- Cracked Black Pepper
- In a bowl, place the Ricotta cheese, 1/3 cup of grated cheese, egg, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
- Add 1 cup of the flour and mix with a spoon until you have formed a shaggy dough.
- Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead a few times with your hands, adding an additional flour if the dough is too sticky.
- Cut into 1 inch slices and gently place on a lightly floured baking sheet.
- Continue with the rest of the dough in this manner.
- Store the gnocchi in the refrigerator until needed.
- In a small frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat, then cook the pancetta until lightly browned.
- Drain the oil and set aside.
- Trim the woody ends off of the asparagus spears and cook them in lightly salted water for about 4 to 5 minutes until tender.
- Cut off the tips, reserve and set aside, then cut the stems into pieces.
- In a saucepan, add the cream, garlic, and chopped asparagus stems and heat over a low flame.
- Add the grated Parmesan cheese, and use a hand wand to puree the sauce until it is very smooth.
- Taste, stir in the pancetta, and season with salt and pepper.
- Keep the sauce warm while you cook the gnocchi.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, and drop the gnocchi into the water.
- Remove as soon as most have floated to the top, 4 to 5 minutes.
- Drain in a colander, and return to the pot.
- Gently toss the gnocchi with the sauce and reserved asparagus tips.
- Serve immediately, topped with a spoonful of additional grated cheese and some cracked black pepper.