Sunday, 30 May 2010
White Asparagus with Dill Hollandaise
18 months ago we planted an asparagus bed at my parents’ house. We spent a full day preparing the soil meticulously to ensure our spidery crowns would have the best chance in life possible. It was the equivalent of sending them off to boarding school and also giving them boaster lessons in French and Spanish. As well as enrolling them in trumpet classes and making them sleep with a paint brush taped to their hand. These asparagus plants wanted for nothing. The only downside is that we will only be able to harvest our first spears in 2012! This will give the crowns enough time to mature and get their strength up so they will continue to be productive for another 20 years. So it’s a price worth paying.
Asparagus is one of my favourite vegetables. But only at the right time of year and when the focus is on the spear and not everything else around them. We’ve had some memorable versions over the last few years. At El Bulli 5 asparagus chunks were served having been cooked for different amounts of time and anointed with different flavourings. Virtually raw asparagus with lemon contrasted perfectly with soft asparagus topped with anchovy butter. At The Hinds Head I had a board of asparagus with hollandaise sauce which I still dream about. It seems then that a fantastic dish of asparagus is likely to linger long in the memory.
All these fond memories derive from the green variety, but I’ve never had white asparagus and wanted to see what the difference was. Whilst stumbling around my new favourite Swedish supermarket, I almost crashed into an iced counter presenting enormous spears of white asparagus. The price tag alone indicated that these were pretty special, so I bought a few spears and rushed home to cook them.
White asparagus is supposed to have a milder flavour than green asparagus and is grown using a process that horticulturalists might call etiolation and everyone else darkness! Essentially by covering the plants in sandy soil and therefore depriving the plants of sunlight the spears turn out white rather than green because of the lack of photosynthesis.
Given their magnificent size and allegedly diluted flavour, I decided to roast them, rather than subject them to boiling water or steam. And for a Swedish touch thought a dill hollandaise would be a good idea…
Ingredients (serves 1)
3 massive white asparagus spears
Brush the asparagus spears in oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes or until tender. Avoid burning your fingers to the bone like I did, if you possibly can.
In the meantime warm some lemon juice in a glass bowl over a pan of not quite simmering water. Once it has reduced slightly mix in 3 egg yolks. Whisk until frothy. Then add melted butter bit by bit whilst whisking until you are left with a beautiful hollandaise sauce. Once it is the consistency you want chop some dill and add to the sauce which will exude on a alluring perfume that anyone who has been to Scandinavia will instantly recognize.
Serve the spears with a generous dollop of dill hollandaise and tuck in. I found this white asparagus to be more fibrous than the dainty green variety common to late British springtime. But that said the top two thirds of each stem were juicy, sweet and tender with only the base being less than perfect. The dill hollandaise turned out to be a fantastic foil adding a clout of additional taste that the white variety seems to miss out on.
If anyone else has any thoughts on white asparagus as opposed to green, I’d be very interested to hear them – especially if they involved recipes with a Scandinavian slant.