What is Spargel?
Spargel is the German word for asparagus. In Germany, spargel is usually grown in conditions which inhibit photosynthesis, which means that the asparagus spears are white rather than green. The Germans claim that their spargel is sweeter and more tender than green asparagus, and asparagus season is a cause for much commotion in many parts of Germany. People who have an opportunity to visit Germany in the late spring can enjoy a variety of dishes made with this vegetable, and take part in the general asparagus frenzy which grips some parts of Germany.
Asparagus is known as the "royal vegetable" in Germany. Traditionally, it is grown in covered cloches so that when the spears protrude above ground, they will not start to photosynthesize in the sunlight. The spears are green to gold in color, and sometimes streaked with purple. The straighter and whiter the spear, the higher price it will fetch. Unlike green asparagus, which usually tastes best when the spears are thin, large spears of white asparagus can be quite flavorful, especially if the woody outer later is peeled away.
April to June is spargel season in Germany, and it's hard to avoid this vegetable during these months. Roadside stands, farmers' markets, and grocery stores all carry ample supplies of the "royal vegetable," and many restaurants have special spargel menus which feature asparagus as the star ingredient. People who want to enjoy asparagus year round may opt to pickle white asparagus while it is in season, assuming that they can keep other members of their households away from the kitchen long enough to secure the asparagus in pickling jars.
In Schwetzingen, sometimes known as the asparagus capital, people can attend the annual Spargelfest, a festival dedicated specifically to celebrating asparagus, at which a Spargel Queen is crowned. White asparagus is worked into a variety of creative dishes during this annual festival, such as appetizers made by wrapping asparagus in cured meats, another specialty of German cuisine. Spargel can also be worked into quiches, salads, and a variety of other dishes.
White and green asparagus certainly do taste different, and for asparagus aficionados, a visit to Germany can yield a variety of creative recipes for spargel, along with a chance to experience the flavor many times over. People who do not enjoy this vegetable may want to be aware that asparagus is on many restaurant menus and plates across Germany during the spargel season, and that hosts may be offended if guests pick at their spargel.
The one thing you have to do with white asparagus is to peel it. There's no way around it. I buy probably a dozen pounds when in season every year. Peel them and vacuum pack them and put in freezer.
When ready to use, you can cook them. Boil or roast them from frozen and they turn out perfect every time. One of my favorite ways to cook them is to add butter, garlic and lemon juice in a vacuum bag, seal it and throw it in a pot of hot water for 15-20 minutes then serve with a bernaise sauce. They're also good rolled up in a crepe with a slice of ham and bernaise sauce. Opa used to make that for us when we were kids.
@momothree: If you prefer to boil your asparagus, this is a great recipe for it. You will need a bunch of medium sized asparagus (approximately a pound), 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, 2 Tbsp. freshly grated parmesan cheese, 1 tsp. lemon zest, and salt and pepper to taste.
Begin by preparing your asparagus. Rinse them very well and break off the tough, white bottoms. Cut the asparagus into 1 or 2 inch sections, slicing it at a diagonal angle. Fill a saucepan about halfway with water and bring it to a boil. Add the asparagus and reduce your heat to a simmer. Parboil the asparagus for 2 minutes. Drain the hot water out.
While your asparagus is still hot, toss them in a bowl with the lemon rind, parmesan cheese, and olive oil. Salt and pepper to your liking.
@momothree: I absolutely love asparagus. However, I used to have the same problem; mushy asparagus. I think it took trial and error for me to get it right. One of my favorite ways to cook asparagus is to roast it. It is really easy and only takes about 15 minutes.
Be sure to rinse your asparagus well before cooking. To roast asparagus, preheat your oven to 400. Place the asparagus spears on a baking tray. Drizzle with a good bit of olive oil. Spread them out evenly on the pan. Sprinkle a little sea salt on the asparagus. Sprinkle some chopped garlic over it, as well.
Place the pan in the oven and bake for about 15 minutes. After I take them out of the oven, I sometimes squeeze a little lemon juice on them or sprinkle some parmesan cheese on them.
Every time I try to cook asparagus, it ends up mushy. I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong. What is the best way to cook asparagus?
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