Sunday, 8 April 2007 by kinakoJam
From now until May or June, it's Spargelzeit
(Asparagus Time) in Germany.
"White asparagus grows especially well in the state of Baden-Wuerttemburg, where the "Asparagus Road" passes though the top asparagus producing towns of Schwetzingen, Reilingen, Karlsruhe and Rastatt. Schwetzingen claims to be the "Asparagus Capital of the World" and holds an annual "Spargelfest", the highlight of which is the naming of the asparagus king or queen."
If the 2004 New York Times report still holds correct, right now Polish labourers are busily harvesting asparagus in a town called Zauchwitz.
"Introduced into Germany from France in the 16th century, asparagus arrived in Beelitz in 1861 and quickly established itself as the prime cash crop, with 1,500 acres under cultivation by 1937. World War II and the advent of Communism — this entire area was in East Germany — caused production to dwindle to almost nothing. But a marriage of German capital and Polish labor has produced a remarkable renaissance, and by 2010 asparagus fields are expected to cover 2,500 acres.
At the Syring Family Farm in Zauchwitz, east of Beelitz, where an inflated, 20-foot-tall plastic Herr Spargel greets hundreds of visitors a day, men from Poland do the digging and cutting of the asparagus, and women from Poland feed it into a machine that washes it and cuts off the woody ends. They then sort it by hand and load it into plastic boxes for sale at the farm, in Berlin wholesale markets and to elite restaurants and hotels like the Four Seasons.
Their foreman, Jurek Wojciakowski, also Polish, said they make about 750 euros a month each, about $900, which is three times the going rate back in Poland."
The appearance of these fat, phallic, translucent stems is celebrated as a sign of the end of winter, and it is indeed nice to see restaurants go crazy over seasonal ingredients.
Before cooking it, you need to peel almost the whole stem from the tip downwards. Snap off any woody ends.
"Asparagus is an excellent source of vitamins K, C and A, and folate, which is good for heart health and helps prevent birth defects. Asparagus also contains inulin, a type of carbohydrate that humans can't digest, however good bacteria in the large intestine can. As such, inulin helps promote the growth and activity of good bacteria in your digestive tract."
Asparagus is a member of the lily family... and this lily-white vege is very nice in creamy potage style soups, though I must say I don't quite appreciate the supposedly delicate flavour of the white variety to the level that is perhaps due. For sautés I still prefer green. (Erik seriously wouldn't believe me when I said green asparagus was more common - that's how dominant the white stuff is here).
I might try this recipe (from epicurious.com) with those imported Chinese black truffles from the biomarkt:
1 1/2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 (15-gm) bottled black truffle (1 inch in diameter), finely minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt plus additional for sprinkling
4 1/2 tablespoons hazelnut or walnut oil
1 1/2 tablespoons chicken broth or truffle liquid from bottle
1 1/2 lb white asparagus, peeled and trimmed
Garnish: fresh chervil sprigs or chopped fresh chives
Whisk together vinegar, lemon juice, truffle, kosher salt, and pepper to taste. Add oil in a slow stream, whisking. Whisk in broth and season with more salt and pepper if necessary.
Arrange asparagus on a steamer rack and sprinkle with kosher salt to taste. Steam asparagus, covered, over boiling water until tender, about 10 minutes for white (4 to 6 for green).
Transfer asparagus with tongs to paper towels and pat dry. Divide among 4 plates, then spoon vinaigrette over and serve warm.