Sunday, 28 April 2013

They are back; Dutch white asparagus!

At the end of April to me there is nothing more exciting than the arrival of the first asparagus.
Are they there yet? Can I afford them already?
Because especially in the beginning when they are still rare  the price can go up to € 18,- a kilo!
And even though I really love them I can control myself and wait a bit longer until they are a little cheaper. But it's a short seasonal delicacy, until 24th June, so don't wait to long!

When I talk about asparagus I always mean the white ones which grow under the ground. They are more expensive than the green and purple ones, even though it's the same plant, because it's much more labor intensive to grow and harvest them.
They are planted in 'beds' covered with white and black plastic, to control a bit of the warmth and keep them from coloring, and have to be dug up as soon as there tips come above the ground.

Asparagus beds at asparagus farm Santspuy in Etten Leur, Netherlands
You  have to peel the white asparagus before preparing them; their skin can't be eaten like the green ones. But even though it's more work and pretty expensive it's totally worth it; they are less bitter and much more tender. In the Netherlands we call them 'the white gold' or 'queen of the vegetables' with a reason ;).

Ready to harvest
Although we Dutch people do exaggerate it a little. Apparently we are willing to pay more for the white asparagus if they are 100% white; also the head. They are considered the 'best' quality if they are totally white and between 20 and 28 mm thick; the so called 'AA white' class. I can understand why Michelin star restaurants prefer these ones, but in taste it makes no difference if the tip is a bit green or purple.

Different categories of Dutch white asparagus

Besides from being a really healthy vegetable you can use it in many different ways; in salads, soups, quiche, risotto or pasta, cooked, steamed or grilled.
But the way I still like them best is the traditional Dutch combination of cooked white asparagus with a sauce of melted butter and parsley, served with ham, boiled egg and new potatoes (krieltjes in Dutch).

Traditional Dutch white asparagus 

Main course for 2 persons

This is not so much a recipe but more a combination of ingredients that combine perfect with each other. 

  • 1 kilo white, thick, Dutch asparagus (weight before peeling)
  • 3 eggs, cooked 
  • 6 slices of cooked ham
  • 50 grams butter
  • 400 grams new potatoes, skin on
  • few sprigs of parsley, chopped finely
  • salt
  • an asparagus pan (see picture below) where the asparagus can stand or a big pan which will fit the whole asparagus lying down
1) Peel the asparagus very carefully, you really don't want any strings of asparagus in your mouth, with a vegetable peeler holding them flat on a cutting board starting from just under the head and work your way down. Then cut about 1 cm off the woody end.  

Boil asparagus for 8-10  minutes (depending on how thick they are) in the asparagus pan,  remove from fire and leave them with the lid on the pan for about another 5 minutes.

Drain them well!

2) Boil the potatoes for about 5 minutes, rinse the water and fry them in a hot pan until lightly browned. 
Or cook them 10 - 15 minutes and serve them like this. 

3) Meanwhile cook the eggs for about 8 - 10 minutes and chop finely. 
I often cook them together with the asparagus if there is enough space in the pan.

4) Slice the cooked ham or make rolls of them and slice them on your plate. 

5) Melt the butter in a small saucepan and mix in the chopped parsley.

6) Serve the asparagus on a warm plate with the potatoes, ham and egg and pour some of the melted butter sauce over the asparagus. 

A heavenly combination! 

Wine pairing; Pinot Blanc from Alsace.

P.s. some proper pictures of the dish and how it's been made are following soon together with more delicious white asparagus recipes. 

Cooking asparagus in our garden

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