Saturday, April 29, 2017

White Asparagus, Photosynthesis, Dutch Treats

Everything your elementary school teachers told you about photosynthesis is true. I’m no expert but I can understand that white asparagus exists for our consumption through the magic of science and the painstaking care required to cultivate this special plant.

Asparagus season is a big deal in Holland. The white asparagus harvest is so highly anticipated that the Dutch call it witte goud, or “white gold.”

White Asparagus beds at Santspuy farm in Etten Leur, Netherlands

Traditionally, Dutch families who routinely dined at home would go out to a restaurant for a festive meal of white asparagus served with a special type of ham from the province of Gelderland. 

For trans-Atlantic travelers, these items also appeared in season on some vintage Holland-America Line menus. (Also, I'm happy to report that I have now discovered a whole new nerd playground in the New York Public Library online archives, fyi. Thanks, Google.)

Vintage Holland-America Line Menus (1899,1953)
New York Public Library Photo:

Michel recalls his father taking their family out for a seasonal treat of white asperges and Gelderland ham. (It was a welcome respite from his mother’s cooking.) 

He also related an anecdote about the late Amsterdam violin dealer Max Möller Jr., who would invite his best customers to his home for a special dinner of white asparagus, ham, and other goodies. 

Möller Shop (r), Willemsparkweg 15

Over the years, Michel spent a lot of time at the Möller shop at Willemsparkweg No.15, looking at violins and bows, asking questions (of course), talking with other violinists, generally just doing his thing in his element. He also acquired some of his more unusual eyeglass frames at the shop next door: Oog in Oog Optiek.

If you are lucky enough to be in northern Europe at this time of year, you will likely enjoy locally sourced, i.e. fresher, asparagus. White asparagus is produced mainly in Limburg, the southernmost Dutch province. This proximity to Belgium blurs the lines about whether it was the Flemish or the Dutch who started serving eggs and buttered potatoes with parsley to make a more substantial asparagus dish.

Traditional Dutch Style White Asparagus

The white asparagus currently available in U.S. food markets comes from Peru. You might notice that the spears are a bit shorter and stouter than green asparagus. 

Some people like to peel the white spears before cooking. You can probably guess which prep method Michel prefers. 

He recently bought one bunch of Peruvian white asparagus at our local supermarket and turned it into two dishes.

As soon as we got home he put the asparagus into a container of water. Why? “It makes them juicy.” 

Later when he was ready to cook, he cut about two inches off the stems and set them aside for making soup.

Michel decided to steam the asparagus for a few minutes. He can’t handle the commonplace boil-the-life-out-of whatever-you-cook method employed in Dutch home kitchens.

Keep an eye on your spears to make sure they are tender enough for your taste. White asparagus is slightly more fibrous than its skinny green relatives and it may need extra time.

Our seasonal white asparagus was topped with a sauce made from shallots, butter, lemon, and juniper berries. 

This is the same sauce Michel made for his version of boorenkoolstamppot. It’s definitely not vegan but it’s worth it once or twice a year. 

Here’s a re-post:

2 shallots, chopped
(coarsely chopped or ground)
1 stick of butter
Juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon dried juniper berries 
Salt and pepper

Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Add shallots, lemon juice, and juniper berries, and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Plate steamed asparagus spears, add sauce, enjoy! 

No comments:

Post a Comment