Our recent trip to Germany happened to coincide with a very important culinary time there. It was white asparagus season, and stands selling “spargel” were everywhere, and the highly prized vegetable was featured on the menus of every restaurant we visited.
From my understanding, white asparagus is not a different variety of asparagus, it is just grown differently. The stalks are kept sheltered from the sun, surrounded by earth, which keeps them from turning green. We never saw any green asparagus in Germany, only the white variety.
White asparagus season — Spargelsaison or Spargelzeit — begins in late April, according to online sources, and traditionally finishes on June 24, so it is still in full swing. Since we were there in late April, Hubby Bryan and I happened to hit the very beginning of the spargel season. I enjoyed a big plate of spargel, along with wienerschnitzel, on our very first night in Munich, while dining with our German hostess Heidi and her good friend (and now ours, too!) Steffi.
Most menus feature spargel served with either butter or Hollandaise sauce and sometimes with a side of roasted potatoes. For just the asparagus dish only, we saw prices ranging from 12 euro to 18 euro, which is $15 to $23. Spendy stuff.
But I do have to admit it was delicious. I intended to treat myself to another meal of spargel before we left, but my tastebuds got sidetracked by other culinary enticements, and now I’m really regretting it. I have previously seen white asparagus in the United States, and even scoured a farmers market in a larger city over this past weekend in hopes of finding some, but no luck.
So how does spargel differ the asparagus we know and love? For one thing, the German white asparagus is huge, with a much bigger circumference. Here, we would look at asparagus of that size and declare it woody. I understand that it is peeled before cooking, and it is very tender and sweet. There is none of the “green” flavor that we associate with asparagus here.
I opted for the Hollandaise, but it didn’t really need it. It was delicious with just a bit of butter and salt and pepper.
Alas, I have no spargel to dine upon this evening, but we seem to still have a bounty of green asparagus in our refrigerator. Here are a couple of new treatments that I’m going to give a try.
Taste of Spring Asparagus Soup
Place 1 pound fresh asparagus and ¾ cup chopped onion in a saucepan with ½ cup chicken broth. Bring the broth to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until tender, five to 10 minutes.
Reserve the asparagus tips and place remaining asparagus-broth mixture in a blender and puree until smooth.
In the same saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter; stir in 2 tablespoons flour, ½ teaspoon salt and ground pepper to taste. Continue to stir while cooking for 2 minutes; do not let the flour brown. Stir in another 1¼ cups chicken broth and increase heat to medium high. Continue stirring while mixture comes to a boil.
Add vegetable puree and 1 cup milk to the saucepan. Whisk in ½ cup plain yogurt, followed by 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Stir until heated through, then ladle into bowls. Add reserved asparagus tips and sprinkle with ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese.
Grilled Asparagus Salad
Combine ¼ cup olive oil and 1/8 cup lemon juice. Trim 12 fresh asparagus spears and coat with lemon-oil mixture. Grill asparagus for about 5 minutes, turning at least once, and brushing with additional lemon-oil mixture. Remove from grill and reserve.
In a large bowl, combine 6 cups fresh spinach leaves, ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese and 2 tablespoons toasted slivered almonds. Cut asparagus into bite-size pieces and add to the salad along with any leftover lemon-oil mixture. Toss gently before serving.