Sunday, May 25, 2008
Mmmh... we had white asparagus for dinner, it was just divine! My favourite vegetable, even as a child! I always picked 'Spargel' for my birthday dinner (Did you get to pick the dinner on your birthday? My mum didn't cook separate food for the kids so it was a big treat to get to decide what was on for dinner). It's really good with Hollandaise, but that's a tricky sauce that we usually left to restaurant chefs to deal with, at home we usually made do with melted butter.
This type of asparagus grows underground, that's why it's white. We never grew it in our vegetable garden, only one of my aunt had some beds, i think it takes about 3 years until the 1st harvest, you have to have good soil and make ridges, and the trickiest part is that you have to cut it before the tip breaks the surface. Less than perfect asparagus tips are grey or green because they haven't been cut in time, after cutting you have to reshape the ridge, so the other growing asparagus tips don't get exposed to light. You only get 'Spargel' in spring, and only until St. John's day if i remember right, the summer solstice.
To buy, it's an expensive vegetable, due to the short season, the labour intensive harvest (it's hand cut, there's no machine that can do it!) and probably also because it's so delicious.
I found it in the farmers market at the Skerries Mills, i think the only other place I've seen it in Ireland was in Fallon&Byrne, the delicatessen in town. At the mills, it possibly came from the Netherlands and might have been organic, and I paid about 6€ for ten stalks, which is enough for 2 portions. (Even though I'd probably have no trouble eating 10 or 15, i'd just be mostly ignoring the ham and spuds...)
If you want to give it a go, make sure you buy some that's not green at the tips, and if you get to pick the actual stalks try and get similar thicknesses. Cut of the woody ends (I find it hard to tell where they start, but my mum has it down to a tee) and peel from just below the tender tips to the bottom with a vegetable peeler (save the ends and peels for asparagus- (or vegetable-) soup). For the professional approach you need a tall pot, and you tie the asparagus stalks in a bundle and stand them up, with the tips just above the water (my mum usually ignores this, and cuts the stalks into three pieces, bottom, middle and top, and throws the bottom ones in first, the tips last.) Cooking time is about 20 minutes, maybe more, you really want these to be much softer than green asparagus, completely tender, but you don't want the tips to fall apart. here are some more explanations. Serve with new potatoes, butter or sauce hollandaise, and for the carnivores, some boiled ham. Yum...
By the way, the farmers market in Skerries makes for a great saturday morning/afternoon, you could have your breckie or lunch in the Mills, or have a delicious grilled Nurnberger Bratwurst with mustart and bread at the German sausage stand, and then buy your fruit and veg. I also got some durum wheat bread at the Soul Bakery stand, and some tea from Larrol's. There are also the usual italian delicatessen, and cheese and egg stands. They are open 10-4.
Oh, did I mention dessert was rhubarb crumble and custard, made by my dear husband P?