|This time of the year fresh asparagus is a true delicacy. In Sweden, it only grows in a few areas, one of which happens to be the island of Gotland, where the soil is particularly sandy and where I spent a week visiting my mom. People go a little nuts when freshly picked asparagus pop up at farmstands, and why shouldn't they! There are few things as tasty and delicious and during my time in Gotland we had it more than once. |
Previously I hadn't had much white asparagus. Sure, I had some years and years ago and then it was concealed in some quiche or tart, and it didn't leave a lasting impression. We usually eat green asparagus, since that's widely available, and the few times I've seen white asparagus in stores here in Oregon I didn't pick it up because I couldn't really justify the higher price. Boy, I didn't know what I was missing out on!
Now, while spending time in Gotland, I got to taste fresh white asparagus cooked to perfection, and man is it something! It's soft, mellow, creamy... it's simply wonderful. It's perfect just with some butter and salt and pepper. While green asparagus can be cooked al dente (and usually I prefer it that way), you really need to cook your white asparagus for at least 25 minutes, and maybe longer if it's tough in any way. It's supposed to melt in your mouth and when it does, it's just marvelous.
Of course, green asparagus is wonderful too, but in a completely different way. We had green asparagus in omelets when I was there, roasted in the oven with cherry tomatoes, olives, garlic and basil (which is oh so good, and a perfect side dish with a piece of meat or fish!), as well as sauteed in the pan and served with some good parmesan cheese and drizzled with olive oil and balsamico which is a concentrated balsamic vinegar. Balsamico is sweet and syrupy and I definitely have to try to make that myself one of these days by slowly reducing regular balsamic vinegar on the stove, because it's a true flavor sensation.
In other words, we went a little nuts as well with our asparagus intake. When I went back to Stockholm to see my dad I brought a whole bunch of fresh asparagus which we enjoyed and that also was distributed to relatives in small packages as gifts. People over there do like their locally grown asparagus!
Growing asparagus is apparently a bit tricky. At a nursery in Gotland I saw these pots of asparagus which you could buy and plant. I wanted to buy a few right there on the spot and bring back in my suitcase but I'm not sure US customs would have been too pleased about that, not to mention the plants would have been completely destroyed by the time I could put them in the dirt!
Once you plant asparagus it takes a year or two (or is it three?) before you get a harvest, but after that it's supposed to come up every year. So it's definitely an investment and needless to say, you can't grow anything else in that spot, so you do need quite a bit of gardening space since asparagus which only comes up in the spring needs its dedicated space so it can come back up every year.
White and green asparagus are actually the same thing. They're only grown differently, which I was quite surprised to learn. Apparently you constantly cover the white asparagus with dirt as they're growing and you don't want it to peak out at all, because then it will turn green and loose it's mellow softness. Then when it becomes time to harvest the white asparagus you only have a short window of opportunity, if you're to cut it at its peak. We're talking hours, not days. I don't think the green kind is as sensitive, and that one is definitely less labor intenstive to grow.
So to conclude. If you see white asparagus in your store, please buy it! Peel it if it's tough and break the ends. Then boil it for at least 25 minutes until it's soft and serve with butter, salt and pepper. Eat it just like that, perhaps as an appetizer or a light meal. OK, if you have to eat with something, then maybe a nice piece of fish? Do that. Go out and buy yourself some, because it's truly wonderful. And if you can't find white, then get some green and saute it gently and eat with lots of aged cheese.
It just doesn't get much better than that.