#76 asparagus

Spring in Germany can only mean one thing for some vegetable aficionados…forget the sun finally shining down on us, Spargelzeit is here!  Asparagus season is a marked highlight in foodie calendars around here, and Germans go crazy for the seasonal white variety that grows during the acclaimed period, called Spargelzeit – or literally ‘Asparagus time’ – from April 22 to June 24.  Yes, it’s clearly marked.  The difference from the more popular green asparagus variety preferred by the rest of the world is that the white variety grows entirely surrounded by earth, protecting the slender stalk from sunlight and keeping it from turning green…making it a cult product in all of Germany.

Certain rural areas in Germany take special pride in being the best in asparagus growing.  The city of Schwetzingen claims to be the ‘Asparagus Capital of the World’, but annual Spargelfeste – or Asparagus feasts – are held all around the country.  The harvest is back-breaking work with the spears needing to be gently freed from the surrounding dirt before being cut by hand!  This makes white asparagus far more expensive than the green variety, but Germans gladly pay big bucks for the freshly-picked spears and purchase more than 50 percent of it directly from farmer’s stands and market stalls.

So interesting!  It really is a phenomenon, and it’s so peculiar to see what the Germans get wired about.  Who would have thought…asparagus!  I enjoyed my market stroll one late afternoon watching the lines of elderly folk forming to buy the last bunches of fresh asparagus of the day – of course, at half the price as earlier in the day.  Even then, the line was not long because of the multitude, it was long because the process of selecting the right asparagus bunch is such a procedure!  Good for them, for they know best how to eat these yummy fibrous shoots: boiled or steamed, usually served with Hollandaise sauce, melted butter or olive oil, Parmesan cheese, or mayonnaise.

To Cook Asparagus

  • 2 pounds (1000g) of asparagus
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/3 cup of butter
  • 1 cup of dried bread crumbs

Wash the asparagus and snap off the lower part of the stalks where they break easily – about 1-1/2 inch.  At this point, you can tie the asparagus in individual serving bunches with kitchen string for a lovely presentation.

Bring 1 cup of water to a boil in a steamer or a boiling pot.  Stand the asparagus in the water and cook them, tightly covered, until tender.  If cooking uncovered, the time increases exponentially, so be sure to add water as it absorbs.  When done, remove the asparagus from the water and drain well, reserving the liquid for a delicious white sauce.  Place the asparagus on a platter and add salt.  Cover to keep warm.

Melt the butter in a medium skillet and add and cook the bread crumbs, stirring until coated.  Roll each asparagus tip over the bread crumbs to coat and lay back on the platter.  Pour the remaining bread crumbs over the tips of the asparagus.

For the White Sauce (Béchamel)

  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 tablespoon of all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup of heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup of reserved asparagus liquid

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.  Whisk in the flour until well blended and smooth.  Remove the pan from heat and slowly whisk in the sour cream and reserved asparagus liquid.  Return the pan to heat an bring to a simmer, whisking constantly to prevent lumps.  Continue to cook, whisking, until the sauce is smooth and hot and has thickened.  Season to taste with salt & pepper.   Serve over the asparagus.

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