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With the arrival of spring comes a glut of new vegetables, amongst which, new season asparagus is some of the most welcome. And while you've probably already discovered the delights of tender green asparagus spears, have white asparagus yet to grace your spring kitchen table?
Once the domain of gourmet restaurants, white asparagus is already a steadfast favourite in some European countries – it's even known as 'white gold' in Germany. We take a closer look at why white asparagus should be on your vegetable list this year.
What is White Asparagus?
Unlike green asparagus, white asparagus is grown without light, under mounds of earth where the shoots remain covered as they grow. Without sunglight photosynthesis is unable to take place meaning the shoots don't develop a colour, instead retaining their characteristic ghostly whiteness.
The spears are generally longer and thicker and more fibrous than green asparagus and can take almost double the cooking time. However, the results are worth the extra effort.
How to Eat White Asparagus?
While asparagus might be little understood in some countries, its annual arrival makes hearts beat a little faster in pockets across Europe, where the striking white spears are prized over their green counterparts.
In France white asparagus commonly graces the tables of fine dining restaurants, including Alain Passard's Arpege – he has been known to serve them on his tasting menu with olive oil and timut pepper. In French homes white asparagus is usually served simply with a sauce like hollandaise in the north, and vinaigrette in the south.
Meanwhile in Spain the soft white spears are commonly found in tapas bars across the country, while asparagus grown in Navarre can be found cooked and bottled or tinned to be enjoyed year round.
Spring in Germany means one thing: the start of Spargelzeit or white asparagus season, from April to June. Huge volumes of the beloved white spears are consumed in German homes and traditional restaurants across the country. While the abundant bundles are usually served plainly, cooked in a light stock and plated up with melted butter they can also be found in soups, salads, with sauces or even as a side serving to German classics like bratwurst.
Take your lead from these countries' tried and tested methods of enjoying the white spears or go all out and try these two gourmet chef recipes showcasing the heady haute cuisine heights of the glistening white gold:
Here's a tasty vegan dish from chef Alberto Quadrio at the 'The Vegetarian Chance' contest.
CHARRED LEEKS AND WHITE ASPARAGUS, HAZELNUTS AND MILK SKIN
London-based Portuguese chef Nuno Mendes puts his characteristic spin on this molecular gastronomy-inspired recipe for charred leeks and white asparagus.