Five years ago, when we first moved to our current property, I planted some scorzonera with the idea that it would be a good root vegetable for fall. When fall came, I dug up a root and prepared it, and found it stringy, hard to prepare, and not all that interesting to eat. I had two good-sized plants, and I never got around to digging up the second one. The next spring it sent up attractive green leaves, and although it was in a spot that I never remember to water, it flourished all summer on the 11″ of rain that we get in an average year. Impressed with its stamina, I left it in place. By the time it came up the third year I had read that the leaves were edible, so I tried them but found them undistinguished and didn’t bother with them again. The plant continued to earn its place by being bright green and trouble-free. This year, its fifth year, the plant began to send up bloomstalks at a time when I had a free afternoon and a propensity to experiment, and I discovered scorzonera asparagus, the plant’s culinary reason for existing. Gather the top 4-5 inches of each scape while the buds are still tightly closed and held close to the stalk, wash well, and toss into a hot skillet with a generous glug of good olive oil and salt to taste. Turn the heat down to medium now. Turn them often so that they brown in spots but don’t blacken. Don’t walk away from the stove! They are done when the leaf tips are fried brown and crispy, and the stalks are just cooked through. Eat promptly, as the semi-wild treasure that they are. I made a little plate of them to be a “cook’s treat” in the kitchen while I was cooking something else, and unwisely offered my husband a taste, which resulted in him eating most of them. They’re good.
This tough-as-nails perennial grows in the desert with little care besides the initial planting and weeding when it’s small, and I plan to plant more. I do offer it some water to make it grow big and bountiful. I may have called the leaves “undistinguished,” but if other spring greens ever fail me, I guess I’ll be glad to have them. It took me a while to learn to use it well, but this plant earns its place in the food garden.