By Ellen Wallace
Most of us don’t have the luxury of going out into the garden, picking the asparagus, then cooking it within minutes, which gives a heavenly vegetable.
The best alternative, and this is the season for it, is to go to the farmer’s door early in the morning to buy freshly picked stalks, then cook them for lunch. Canton Geneva has several farmers who sell directly but be forewarned that they are likely to be sold out by 10:00 at the height of the season!
Canton Valais is famous for its asparagus and Saillon is renowned as the Valais capital, with green and white equally popular.
Tip: use a damp cloth
I bought my asparagus Friday afternoon in Saillon, a village of professional gardeners and grape growers along the Rhone. Terraced vineyards climb beautifully towards Alpine peaks behind the village. The farmer’s wife insisted that I keep the bottom half covered with a damp dish towel as she had done, until I was ready to use them that evening. This keeps the newly picked stalks from going woody. She was right: it works, if only for a few hours.
Basic recipe for cooking asparagus
From the Saillon, Valais, Switzerland growers association
Select asparagus stalks of the same size. Wash, then peel gently from top to bottom starting just below the tender tips. Cut off 2-3cm from the bottom of the stalk if it has become woody, but note that if it is very fresh you can skip this. Tie the stalks in small bundles of 5-8 and stand them upright in water just brought to a boil, making sure the tips are not covered. Simmer gently 18-22 minutes, covered,ensuring the stalks remain upright.
Note: those of us who don’t have special asparagus cookers need to find creative solutions using our kitchen utensils. I stood mine in a metal cup for heating milk, then gently set this in the pan of boiling water.
Saillon is worth a visit for more than its vegetables
Saillon is well worth a visit and there is no better time than now, when asparagus is in season and new wines are being presented. Five village cellars are participating in the Valais wines open house 12-14 May. Petite Arvine, a Valais specialty, is perfect with asparagus, but make sure you buy a dry version.
Saillon also has thermal baths, a castle, a counterfeit money museum, Farinet’s peace vineyard (the smallest in Switzerland) and a walking tour with 20 stained glass windows. Details from the tourism office.
More on asparagus on GenevaLunch