Green asparagus or white. What’s the difference?
Unlike green asparagus, which is grown above ground, white asparagus (also known as spargel in Germany) is grown underground (see photos below, courtesy of Foodproject.com). Deprived from light, the development of chlorophyll is prevented, and rather than turning green, the asparagus remains an elegant shade of ivory. Just as the tips of white asparagus break through the surface of the soil, they are quickly harvested (by hand) and sold in roadside stands and markets in northern Europe. In some cases, the tips are allowed a brief amount of sun to gain a bit of green accent against the white stalks. Though similar in flavor to grassy undertones in green asparagus, the white variety tends to be a bit more tender and delicate in flavor.
Until recently, finding fresh white asparagus in the US was a difficult task. But now, white asparagus is harvested domestically from March to early May, and may be picked up (if you are lucky!) in your local farmer’s markets. If this is not the case for you (or me), you may purchase imported European white asparagus, or will find imported varieties from Peru at your grocery store.
I was in Pawleys Island, SC (in the middle of my tour with Friends at the Table) during the time I was working on this post, and after a trip to 3 different stores, good old Piggly Wiggly came through for me, at a time I thought I would be special ordering from the produce department. I’m pretty sure I embarrassed my dad (who I was with in the store) when I let out a squeal of excitement upon spotting it! A few ladies resembling Driving Miss Daisy looked over at me like I had been drinking some spiked sweet tea.
Wishing to truly showcase the flavor of the white asparagus, I decided to create a sauce made with European butter and fresh tarragon to glam it up a bit. The toasty crumbs add the contrasting texture it needs, and is rich enough to stand alone as an entree. You could also add a sprinkle of sauteed pancetta as well if you like.
If you have never tried white asparagus, I hope you will go on the hunt for some and try some of the amazing recipes my blogger friends have come up with for this month’s 5 Star Makeover. Be sure to stop by 5 Star Foodie or Lazaro Cooks! sites for the roundup on Friday!
You’ll need to peel the asparagus prior to cooking, removing the tougher exterior of the stalk.
To prevent the fragile tips from breaking off during the cooking process, cook in an upright asparagus basket, or, tie the asparagus in bundles with cotton twine, and lower into a pot of vigorously simmering (but not boiling) water.
White Asparagus with Herbed Cream and Toasted Bread Crumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups 1/2-inch artisan bread cubes
2 pounds fresh white asparagus
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup dry white wine
2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
3 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons minced chives
Salt and pepper
For toasted bread crumbs:
Place bread cubes in the bowl of a food processor and process into fine crumbs. Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add bread crumbs to pan; stirring constantly, until bread crumbs are golden brown, about 4 minutes. Reserve crumbs until ready to use.
For the white asparagus:
Bring water to a boil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add salt and lemon juice lemon juice. Meanwhile, trim about 1/2″ from the ends of the asparagus. Lay spears on a work surface, then peel thin skin from each with a sharp vegetable
peeler, starting 1 1/2″ from the top and running the length of the spear. Add peeled asparagus to boiling water, and reduce heat to medium, maintaining a steady simmer. Cook until tender when pierced with the tip of a knife, 8–20 minutes, depending on thickness. Lift asparagus from water and drain on paper towels.
Meanwhile, boil wine and shallots in a medium heavy pan over medium-high heat until reduced by three-quarters, 10–15 minutes. Add cream and reduce again by half, 5–7 minutes; reduce heat to low. Add butter to pan one tablespoon at a time, whisking until smooth. Whisk in herbs, then add salt and pepper to taste.
Place cooked/drained asparagus in a large serving bowl. Add cream sauce, and toss well. Sprinkle with toasted bread crumbs.
Makes 6 servings