Saturday, April 16, 2011

Asperges

"Cut here", my grandma said, pointing her knife at a seemingly random point in the sand. "Cut where?" I asked. I didn't see any difference between the area she indicated and the rest of the raised bed. Or any of the other 300 rows of sandy mounds we were standing amongst, for that matter. "Right here", she laughed, plunging the knife into the sandy soil and pulling up the biggest, whitest asparagus I had ever seen.

It was early Spring, and I must have been about 8 years old. My grandma Pauline had taken me to one of the many asparagus fields outside of the small town where I grew up in Limburg. During those early months, she would often join the asparagus harvesters out in the field to cut the growth for the day, and many, many days we enjoyed freshly cut asparagus, straight from the field.

White asparagus, contrary to the green ones that we are more accostumed to here in the US, grow below the surface in beds of loose sand. The moment their little heads see the light of day, the top hardens, changes color and alters its delicate flavor, so it's imperative that the vegetable is harvested right before surfacing.

Asperges are harvested from early Spring until June 24th. Brabant and the northern part of Limburg are the two areas that are famous for the quality, and the quantity, of its asparagus. During harvesting time, pretty much each village in the area will host an asparagus fest, feed or fair. The vegetable, nicknamed "white gold" because of the exorbitant prices it can fetch on the market, draws fans and foodies from far across the international borders.

The vegetable is easy to keep: wrap the stalks in a moist towel and keep it in the crisper for a couple of days. It also freezes fairly well: wash the asparagus, peel and pack them in a plastic bag, then freeze. When you are ready to cook, just remove the package from the freezer, unwrap the stalks and place the frozen vegetables straight into the boiling water.

White asparagus are traditionally served boiled, with eggs and ham, or with a Hollandaise sauce. They can be served cold, as a salad or starter, or warm as a main dish. Because of the whiteness of the vegetable, and being one of the first ones to show up on the table after a cold winter, asperges are a typical Easter dish.

Asparagus
1 lb of white asparagus
Water
Pinch of salt
4 eggs, hard boiled
1 tablespoon of parsley, chopped
4 slices of ham

Carefuly rinse the stalks, pat dry, and peel the asparagus with a vegetable peeler. The stalks are very fragile and will easily snap, so place them on a cutting board laying down, and while holding the stalk with one hand, peel the outer skin off, starting about 1/3 from the top. Cut about an inch from the bottom since that is usually a bitter, hard part. Don't throw the peels or the end pieces away, save them for asparagus soup

Put enough water in a pot that the stalks are barely covered, add the asparagus and bring to a boil. Depending on the freshness and size of the asparagus, it may take from 5 -20 minutes before the vegetable is cooked. It's ready to eat when the stalk is easily pierced with a fork.

In the meantime, remove the egg yolks from the boiled eggs and chop. When the asparagus are ready, take out of the water (keep the water for soup), drain for a minute and place the stalks on top of the ham on a serving platter. Decorate the white stalks with the chopped egg yolk, and sprinkle the chopped parsley over it. 




5 comments:

  1. When I was living on the East side of Oss, North Brabant, I went out early on Saturday mornings, about 5 minutes driving from home, to buy a couple of pounds (my parents and in-laws came over specially for those occasions) of white asparagus freshly "gestoken" out of the fields before daybreak. We even had a special asparugus pan to boil them.
    I miss the melted real butter, generously poured over the asparagus, in your recipe.

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  2. Asperges gerecht doet me watertanden.
    great Blog
    Wordt Nederlandse asperges in the USA geimporteerd?
    groet

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. De Nederlandse asperge helaas niet, tenminste niet hier aan de westkust. De meeste witte asperges komen hier uit Peru. Ze zijn vrij dun en hebben niet altijd die typische aspergesmaak die je krijgt met dikkere exemplaar maar zijn toch smakelijk. Maar die goeie Limburgse asperge mis ik wel hoor!

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  3. Dank voor je antwoord.
    Het is nu de tijd en misschien zijn er wegen die Limburgse asperges (kom zelf uit limburg) hier te krijgen.
    Ik laat je weten als et lukt
    Jan

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Moet je zeker laten weten, kom zelf ook uit Limburg en het witte goud is daar het beste!

      Delete

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