Fresh asparagus is an elegant vegetable. What makes it so, I am not quite sure, however, long tender spears of white or green asparagus, adorned with a creamy sauce will usually get your guests’ attention. In Central Germany, where I grew up, the asparagus season is much anticipated. When the just picked spears hit the markets, every restaurant in town will have an asparagus special, but what they will be serving is white, not green. White asparagus are raised in an odd, mounded row and when the tip of the spear just begins to break the surface, it is harvested. Having never seen the sunshine, it is white.
I am not going to get in the middle of the debate over which one is best, but I assure my German friends would turn their collective noses up at what we commonly eat. Both can be made delicious when proper care is given to them. As is always the case, if you overcook these tender vegetables, they are ruined and deserve only a place in the compost pile.
If you really get into asparagus, you can buy a specialty pot designed to cook them just right. It is a tall, thin stockpot, with a wire basket that can be lowered into the hot water, leaving the tips out of the water so they do not overcook, but making sure the thicker stalk is cooked just right. They cost from $20 to $100 or so, and I do recommend them if you are going to cook asparagus often.
White Asparagus and Hollandaise Sauce
In Central Europe, this is the classic pairing of fresh white asparagus and sauce:
1 bunch white asparagus
4 egg yolks
1 stick butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 pinch cayenne
Remove the tough lower stems of the asparagus and peel the thick skin on the lower part of the shaft. Steam in water fortified with lemon juice and butter but just until tender. Please do not overcook. Cut the cold butter into 4-5 pieces. In a double boiler (bain-marie) over low heat, add the egg yolks and whisk until they just start to thicken, add a lump of butter, and repeat the process. When the butter has been used, add the lemon juice and cayenne. Continue whisking until the sauce is as thick as you like. Remember to control the heat or you will have scrambled eggs. Plate the asparagus and top with hollandaise, serve at once. Serve with a nice dry Riesling.
Baked Asparagus and Cheese Grits
This is not a classic pairing at all but is just a Southern twist that I like:
1 bunch green asparagus
1-2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper
1 cup Mississippi made grits
2 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup heavy cream
½ cup grated white cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper
Toss the asparagus in olive oil, season with salt and pepper, dot with butter and bake at 400 F for 10 minutes. Remove and fork test for tenderness. Heat the stock in a saucepan, whisk in the grits, and simmer. You will undoubtedly need more stock, so have some heated stock handy. Simmer until done, adding more stock as you go. The timing varies widely, just taste occasionally. It is not something you can rush. When the grits are ready add the cheese and cream. Cook 2-3 minutes longer. Plate the grits, top with the asparagus and serve at once.
1 bunch asparagus
1 farm fresh egg per person.
This is a great little recipe, as the sunny side up egg adds a richness and also serve as a sauce. Cook the asparagus using one of the two methods above. If you have an immersion circulator, cook the eggs at 63 C for 40 minutes, if not just cook gently in butter or poach. Plate the tender asparagus, top with an egg, and add a splash of lemon juice or a sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano if you like.