The season has started: asparagus. The healthy and aromatic, light in calories and easy to prepare spring vegetable. Peel, cook in 15-20 minutes, serve with melted butter, nice ham – and a good wine.
Asparagus Officinalis, the traditional medical plant, was used in China already 5000 years ago. The Romans brought it to Germania. But after the Empire had collapsed, it wasn’t until at the medieval age that it was cultivated again. Mostly at monasteries, where it was needed for medical purposes. Today, asparagus is sold as vegetable, and most is sold directly off the farms to consumers.
Asparagus comes in 3 colors: green, white or purple. Green asparagus (i.e. Spaganiva) grows above the surface, is easier harvested and does not need to be peeled before cooking. White asparagus grows under the surface and is harvested once its spear breaks through the soil. This is considerably more work and needs to be done immediately. White asparagus that is exposed to sun turns violett, which does not change the taste. But this is not to be confused with purple asparagus, which is a different type.
Because it simply tastes very best when really fresh, I feel priviliged to go and buy it directly from the farmer. And only now – when it is time for asparagus – until latest June, 24. That is the day when the season ends for the year, to give the plant its well needed time for regeneration to be ready for next year’s crop. Germany has ca 15.000 hectars of asparagus and the crop is classified by thickness, by how streight it is, and by how closed the spear still is. Fresh asparagus will ‘squeak’ when gently rubbed against each other. The end where it has been cut should be moist to indicate freshness. (To me there is almost nothing worse than white, completely dried out, wooden asparagus from Peru sold at the supermarket in October or February…….)
How to cook white asparagus:
Peel carefully from the head to the end, cut off a bit of the end. Bring water to boil, add salt, sugar, butter and if you like some lemon. Put in asparagus carefully and boil 10-20 minutes (depending on thickness) until tender, but not too soft. Or use a steam cooker, if you have one.
Wines to pair with white asparagus when served with melted butter or sauce Hollandaise: Pinot Blanc, Silvaner, unoaked Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris. A wine should be light in body and best not have too high acidity to not overpower the delicate vegetable.