Photo of a plate of white asparagus and potatoes with hollandaise sauce

Wild About White Asparagus

Springtime in Germany is a magical season. We planned our trip during that time not knowing we’d be smack in the middle of something else magical – celebrating the national obsession of spargel or white asparagus.

The “white gold” is on just about every menu during spargelzeit (asparagus season) and from mid-April to June 24 restaurant reservations can be at a premium. Spargelzeit always ends on June 24, also St. John the Baptist Day, the start of summer and 100 days (give or take) to the first frost.

You may be wondering, how many times can one eat white asparagus? Turns out, more than you think! We ate lots of it, usually swimming in browned butter or hollandaise sauce, often accompanied by tiny new potatoes. It seemed sort of offensive to the harvest not to eat it almost every day.

Purists believe spargel should be eaten with your fingers, claiming the metal in utensils ruins the flavor.

According to the European Asparagus Museum in Schrobenhausen, Roman writer Marcus Porcius Cato (234–149 BC) wrote about it, and in 300 AD it was cited in a Roman recipe book. Mysteriously, any written reference to the vegetable disappeared until 1100 AD. In 1565, it appeared in a catalog of plants in the German prince’s garden and was referred to as “delightful fare for lovers of food.” By the mid-1800s, it was no longer reserved for royalty and was available to all.

Growing underground is what separates the white and green varieties. Buried in mounds of soil to block the sunlight that produces chlorophyll and would turn them green, it takes two-three years for each stalk to mature. Harvesting is done individually by hand.

On May 24, in his Flavors of Tucson City of Gastronomy series, It’s Summer in the Dessert, Westward Look Wyndham Grand Resort & Spa Executive Chef Todd Sicolo is incorporating white asparagus into the entrée: Smoked Filet of Beef – lemon poached white asparagus, shrimp scampi potatoes, smoking rosemary sprig and toasted garlic butter reduction. The menu starts with Crispy Soft-Shell Crab with chile–lime cucumber noodles, salted watermelon and fresh cilantro is the first course; next, Horchata Salad – basil, compressed cantaloupe, fresh snipped cantaloupe sprouts, local goat cheese and cinnamon candied macadamia nuts; Schnepf Farms Peach Pizza – Madeira poached white raisins, salted caramel ice cream and peach blini bubbles is the finale. Chef Tiffany Sicolo, Chef Todd’s wife, will also join us.

Thanks to the chefs’ generosity, $25 of your registration fee will be donated to Youth on Their Own, whose mission is supporting high school graduation and continued success of Pima County youth experiencing homelessness.

On May 19, it’s all about Peruvian cuisine and cultural influences with Lima native and Cordon Bleu London graduate, Chef Sybil Velarde. The menu: Choritos à la Chalaca (Mussels Callo Port Style), Lomo Saltado (Stir-Fried Beef) and Suspiro de Limeña (Lima Lady Sigh), a caramel like pudding topped with a Port wine meringue.

On May 23, you don’t have to travel to Malta to enjoy pastizzi, the island’s favorite street food that’s layers of crunchy phyllo dough with a savory ricotta filling. Malta Joe Gauci will teach you to make it; you’ll eat some in class and take six home with you. On the 19th, tune in to KVOI’s Wake Up Tucson! to catch Joe talking pastizzi with host Chris DeSimone.

Did you read the article in the Arizona Daily Star about BATA Pastry Chef Kayla Draper? She’s putting the finishing touches on her June 14 dessert class.

Maynards Executive Chef Brian Smith is teaching the June Flavors of Tucson City of Gastronomy series on the 23rd. Stay tuned for the details.

Wishing you joy in the kitchen,

Photo of a bowl of white asparagus soup topped with chives

Spargelsuppe – White Asparagus Soup
Yield: 4 servings

1 lb. white asparagus
4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
1 small yellow onion, diced
6 oz. crème fraîche
½ medium lemon, juiced
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped, for garnish, optional

1. Trim asparagus by cutting off bottom inch of stalks. Dice into 2-inch pieces. Dice onions to similar size.
2. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat. Sauté onions until softened, but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add asparagus and sauté 5 minutes or until coated with oil and beginning to turn translucent.
3. Add broth to cover asparagus and onions. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, 30-40 minutes or until asparagus is tender and easily pierced by a fork.
4. Using an immersion blender, blend soup until a smooth texture develops. Add crème fraîche and blend until incorporated.
5. Garnish with chopped chives.

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