Spring in Switzerland also means the arrival of local green and white asparagus—and apparently violet too, which I have yet to find. Never having cooked white asparagus before, I bought a small bunch at my local farmer’s market this week. At about 16 CHF per kilogram (about 8 USD per pound), I handed over a small fortune for this springtime delicacy.
While I’ve seen white asparagus before in the United States, it’s just not that common, and I had never tried it. This time of year, in comparison, we’re finding white asparagus everywhere around our Swiss town. A nearby restaurant even advertises a special asparagus menu with items ranging from salads and soups to seafood, pasta and pizza.
Based on my limited research, here are some key things I’ve learned about white asparagus:
- White asparagus is the same as green, farmers just grow it covered in dirt and plastic. It has no sunlight, so photosynthesis doesn’t take place to add any color.
- You can’t really overcook it. That’s good news! Unlike green asparagus, white is typically steamed until soft.
- You need to peel it. Since it’s grown in the dirt, the outside gets a little tougher and stringier. And, peel the asparagus while it’s laying down because it’s fragile and can break easily.
During a recent night out with my husband sans children, I ordered cream of white asparagus soup with potato-tarragon beignets at our neighborhood brasserie. My first taste of exotic white asparagus! So much cream and butter! I would never serve this at home because of my son’s allergies, so it was a real treat.
Home-Cooked White Asparagus
Since yesterday was Ascension Day, everything was closed. As usual, I didn’t plan ahead and just had to cook the white asparagus with what I had on hand. Although I really needed to add some lemon juice, I just boiled the white asparagus in water with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt for about 15 minutes or so.
While the asparagus was boiling, I grated some old baguette to make bread crumbs and finely chopped some fresh thyme. I threw both these ingredients into a small pan with some vegetable-based margarine and a few pieces of torn up prosciutto. I toasted the bread crumb mixture on high heat for a couple minutes and tossed it over the boiled asparagus. And, voila! Dairy, egg and nut-free white asparagus. If it wasn’t so expensive, I would buy it more often!
For more information about white asparagus, here are some links I used for my informal research:
- Martha Stewart, http://www.marthastewart.com/919514/how-cook-white-asparagus-correctly
- World Radio Switzerland, http://worldradio.ch/wrs/programmes/food/food-scout-the-secret-to-growing-white-asparagus.shtml?24702
- Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/white-asparagus_n_1412329.html#s852932&title=WATCH_White_Asparagus
Due to the holiday weekend, we’ve planned some local sightseeing excursions. I hope to discover some new Swiss foods while we’re on our adventures. Bon week-end!