Tuesday, April 19, 2011

White Asparagus

You know it's spring when white asparagus appears. Green asparagus is available year-round, because it's grown in Mexico, where the climate supports it. But I suspect they haven't caught on to the unique farming methods that produce the white version. It's a European thing. Unlike green asparagus, the white is grown in the dark--that is, with the dirt mounded up around the shoots as they grow. Because they cannot  perform photosynthesis without exposure to the sun, they remain white, and some say this gives them a milder taste and a more tender bite. Their skin, however, is quite tough and bitter, so they need to be peeled before cooking.

I first had white asparagus in Austria, where it's usually served with a brown butter sauce. Now that I'm not eating butter (or hollandaise sauce either, for that matter), I've decided to invent my own way of serving this elegant vegetable. Later on, I'll come up with a way to serve it hot, but for now I'm totally sold on this cold dish I'm calling "White Asparagus Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette."

It's really simple, but the flavor is unbelievable. First, I wash them meticulously to make sure the tips don't have any embedded dirt (a huge turnoff when you're eating them), and cut them to equal length--the ends are very tough, so these need to be cut off, and I figure while I'm at it, I might as well make them eye-appealing. Then I peel them, which is the only real laborious part. Once peeled, I drop them into boiling salted water and cook them until tender, which could take anywhere from eight to ten minutes, sometimes a bit more. Once they're done, I scoop them out and refresh them in cold water, and then lay them out on a towel to drain, blotting them with another towel.

Tonight, while the asparagus were cooking, I made a vinaigrette with aged sherry vinegar, just a dab of Dijon mustard, salt and pepper, and walnut oil. As a final touch, I whisked in a couple teaspoons of white truffle oil. Once it was emulsified, I stirred in about two tablespoons of finely diced shallots. To serve, I laid the asparagus on Limoges plates in a single layer, spooned the vinaigrette over them, and sprinkled some very fine snipped chives all around.

This was a real treat, let me tell you!

1 comment: