PRODUCT OF THE WEEK
Head for the farmers’ markets before 10:00 a.m. if you want the day’s pick of fresh white asparagus, in season now for only another week or two in Valais, one of Switzerland’s best areas for growing it.
White asparagus is an expensive treat, because it is labor-intensive. Asparagus is naturally green, and to keep it from turning green, you have to prevent photosynthesis by ensuring that the spears are always covered by mounds of earth and don’t ever see the sunlight. Still, because the season is so short, you can give yourself a treat at least once or twice a year.
White asparagus takes more time to prepare and cook than green asparagus.
This is the classic method of cooking: An asparagus cooker makes up standard kitchenware for many Europeans, but a large upright pot, such as a pasta cooker, will do just as well, just as long as it is as tall as the asparagus is long.
- Put a large pot of salted water on to boil.
- Start by cutting off the woody, toughest part of the asparagus stems. Then lay the spears down on their sides and GENTLY peel, taking particular care around the tips. If you hold them upright they risk breaking. Try and even up the length of the bunch.
- Tie together into a bundle with kitchen string.
- When water boils, place bundle in water in the upright position, making sure the level of the water goes up to the tips but DOES NOT COVER them.
- It will usually take 15-20 minutes to cook, but that depends on the diameter. Use a small kitchen knife to prick them from time to time to check whether they are tender.
- When cooked, use tongs to carefully remove bundle from water. Drain.
This is my favorite way of cooking asparagus, although it works better for green asparagus than for white. This method of cooking gives it a condensed, intense flavor.
- Heat broiler.
- Brush roasting tin or broiler pan with olive oil.
- Prepare asparagus, following steps 2 and 3 above, but do not tie into a bundle.
- Spread spears in a single layer on roasting tin. Salt and pepper.
- Broil, turning every 3 or 4 minutes and pricking with a knife to check for tenderness. Depending on the diameter of the spears, this takes anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. You have to watch it carefully. Remove when largest spears are tender, or if there is a large variation in diameters, remove smaller spears as they become tender.
Either of these methods of cooking allows you to eat the asparagus cold or hot.
Cold accompanied by Hollandaise sauce, vinaigrette, Parma or San Daniele ham, shrimp, or simply with lemon, freshly grated black pepper and olive oil.
Warm served with melted butter, lemon and freshly ground pepper; with warm butter or olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan; with sautéed morel mushrooms.
Wine suggestions: a white Johannisberg
Recipe of the Week: Asparagus as a main dish