Spargelzeit

Spargelzeit, Germany’s annual homage to all things asparagus, is one of the greatest food crazes around the world. Although the average green variety is available all year round, Germans prefer the seasonal white variety, or “white gold,” grown only between mid-April and June 24th. The end date, the Christian celebration of the nativity of John the Baptist, is harsh and nonnegotiable, spurring residents to double down on consumption while they can.

Paying tribute to the tender young stalks, there are asparagus peeling contests, festivals, road side asparagus booths, beauty pageants, farm tours, asparagus seminars and of course, cooking classes. Traditional preparations are very plain, the most popular of which being butter-poach asparagus with a heavy cloak of hollandaise sauce. For such a versatile vegetable, though, this is just the start.

Last year, I had the great fortune of experiencing spargelzeit firsthand, traveling to Beelitz, which is also known as Spargelstadt (asparagus city.) Producing the most highly regarded spargel in all the land, they also lay claim to an asparagus museum and dedicated asparagus restaurants. It was back in Berlin, however, that I really got my fill.

On one fateful crisp spring evening, a small crowd assembled in Goldhahn & Sampson around closing time. We weren’t there to flip through cookbooks or ogle truffle oil, though. Donning aprons as the front lights dimmed, we set our sights upon countless bundles of asparagus, fat and thin, green and white, fresh as can be.

Nothing was lost in translation when cooking with Boris Lauser, despite mild language barriers. Best known for his work in the realm of gourmet raw food, this unique culinary background inspires a more creative approach to cooking, incorporating elements of juicing and dehydrating right alongside conventional baking and sauteing.

Lining up hit after hit on the menu, we quickly got to work breaking down a small fortune of “white gold” for the luxurious veloute. Warm, but still raw soup enriched with cashews contrasted sharply with an unexpected dollop of sweet yet tart rhubarb compote. By equal turns soothing and invigorating, it was unlike any take on asparagus I had tasted yet. Lavished with a sprinkle of truffle oil, it hardly needed such an extravagant finishing touch… But I can’t say it detracted from the experience, by the same token.

Bacon-wrapped asparagus is exceptionally popular even among the pickiest omnivore, and I have a feeling that they would be just as smitten with Boris’ imaginative plant-based twist. Eggplant, sliced into paper-thin sheets, takes on a crisp, smoky character after a few hours of slow, steady dehydration. Topping shaved, raw spears of the verdant green vegetable, it’s the kind of dish that could feed either a dozen, or just one, if you don’t pay close attention to portioning. It’s compulsively snackable, especially with the potato chip-like crunch of that eggplant.

Relinquishing the spotlight temporarily to another vegetative star, zucchini schitzel took shape in a blazing hot cast iron pan, encrusted in breadcrumbs.

Pumpkin gnocchi, served alongside a shock of green pesto sauce, come together with a secret ingredient not typically found in the pedestrian potato variety: psyllium husk! Lending a surprising chew, they’re a bit denser and more like dumplings, but quite satisfying all the same.

The dish I was most excited for, an idea so crazy that it just might work, turned out to be a slight disappointment, but not based upon the actual eating experience. Listed as “asparagus panna cotta,” I was slightly let down to discover that it was merely a typo on the agenda. It was, in fact, a simple almond-based custard topped by fresh berries, cacao nibs, and almonds, not a stalk in sight. While it was perhaps a better complement for the overall meal, I can’t help but wonder what an asparagus dessert might taste like… But some things, like asparagus liqueur and asparagus jelly molds, are better off left untasted.

Sadly, it doesn’t look like another trip to Germany will be in the cards for this particular spargelzeit, but I fully plan on celebrating the season at home. Raw or cooked, there’s no wrong way to enjoy asparagus.

Wie isst du gerne deinen Spargel? (How do you like to eat asparagus?)

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White as Springtime Snow

White gazpacho has been something of an enigma to me ever since I first learned of its existence. Thick, rich, and creamy, it seemed the absolute antithesis of the light but bold, veggie-packed tomato gazpacho I already knew and loved. Both are chilled soups, but the similarities ended there. Like the differences between spring and summer, it can sometimes be difficult to discern where one ends and the other begins, but it’s as clear as night and day when viewed from a distance.

Deceptively light and refreshing, the paler version of this old school soup is far richer and more satisfying than such a simple preparation would lead you to believe. Perfectly suited to warm, muggy days, but still hearty enough to hold an overwintered appetite in check, it’s the best thing for days betwixt and between two (or three) seasons. I could hardly do such a classic, straightforward recipe as written though- Especially not when the short-lived white asparagus beckoned from nearby grocery shelves.

Rather than using stale bread or green grapes to make up the bulk of the base, I opted to feature the subtle flavor of these precious blonde stalks. Standard green asparagus could make a fine substitute in terms of flavor, but naturally, you’d end up with a green gazpacho instead.

For added flair, freshly plucked violets or other edible flowers are completely optional, but instantly liven up the otherwise monochromatic color palate with style.

Yield: Makes 4 -6 Servings

White Asparagus Gazpacho

White Asparagus Gazpacho

Deceptively light and refreshing, the paler version of this old school soup is far richer and more satisfying than such a simple preparation would lead you to believe. Perfectly suited to warm, muggy days, but still hearty enough to hold an overwintered appetite in check, it’s the best thing for days betwixt and between two (or three) seasons.

Ingredients

  • 1 Pound White Asparagus, Ends Trimmed
  • 1/2 Cup Sliced or Slivered Almonds
  • 1 Small Shallot, Diced
  • 2 Cloves Roasted Garlic
  • 1 Medium Cucumber, Peeled and Chopped (Seeded if Necessary), Divided (Reserve 1/4 Cup for Garnish)
  • 2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 – 3/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground White Pepper
  • 1/4 Cup Avocado Oil or Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/2 – 1 1/2 Cups Vegetable Stock
  • Truffle Oil
  • Additional Slivered Almonds, to Garnish

Instructions

  1. Bring a large stockpot full of water to a boil. Dunk in the prepared asparagus very briefly, for about 1 – 2 minutes, in order to blanch.
  2. Drain and immediately immerse the stalks in an ice-water bath to cool them down as quickly as possible and arrest the cooking process. Drain once more and roughly chop before tossing the pieces into your blender.
  3. Puree the asparagus along with all of the other ingredients, except for the oil, water, and garnishes. Once smooth, slowly drizzle in the oil while the machine continues to run, to emulsify the mixture.
  4. Repeat this process with stock, adding enough until it reaches your desired viscosity. Note that if you make this soup in advance and store it in the fridge, you will likely need to thin it out further after it sits.
  5. Serve immediately or chill for a more refreshing, ice-cold soup, and top portions with the reserved chopped cucumber, additional almonds, and truffle oil, if desired.

Notes

Standard green asparagus could make a fine substitute in terms of flavor, but naturally, you’d end up with a green gazpacho instead.

For added flair, freshly plucked violets or other edible flowers are completely optional, but instantly liven up the otherwise monochromatic color palate with style.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

6

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 216Total Fat: 20gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 17gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 539mgCarbohydrates: 8gFiber: 4gSugar: 2gProtein: 5g

Soup Kitchen

Left alone and given half a chance, my daily personal menu could easily be reduced to little more than soups and stews. Quite frankly, it’s incredibly that there’s any savory food that makes it onto this blog besides those more liquid edibles, for as much as I make and eat them! Perhaps its the fact that they often defy recipes, one of their most attractive features in the first place, that my love for soup isn’t properly documented. Experience has shown that whatever you’ve got lying around in the fridge, waiting to be used up, is what tastes best in soup. Truly! The more desperate it is to be used, the smaller the scraps that can find no other culinary destination, they are what you should put in you soup right this moment. Besides, how many people need to be told how to put a mirepoix, some beans, and a handful of spices into a big pot with plenty of water? Even the most inexperienced and reluctant cooks can figure that procedure out, no recipe required. It feels silly to spell it out, and yet, there are some creations that beg to be recorded and shared.

An unlikely combination even in my eyes, I didn’t expect that leftover can of coconut milk to embrace the green, vegetal flavor of asparagus nearly so harmoniously. Brightened with zippy bites of lemon, ginger, and pepper, it’s a departure from my standard soup spicing, and just the breath of fresh air I so deeply needed in my soup routine. Although it may still be fairly basic, I’ve conquered my resistance to sharing what seems simple; A recipe needn’t be complicated to be worth talking about.

Yield: Makes 2 - 4 Servings

Asparagus and Coconut Soup

Asparagus and Coconut Soup

Coconut milk embraces the green, vegetal flavor of asparagus with surprising harmony within this creamy soup. Brightened by zippy bites of lemon, ginger, and pepper, it’s a departure from the standard soup spicing, and a delicious breath of fresh air suitable for spring.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 2 Medium Leeks, Sliced Lengthwise, Chopped, and Thoroughly Cleaned*
  • 1 Inch Fresh Ginger, Peeled and Finely Minced
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 12 – 16 Ounces Trimmed Fresh Asparagus, Roughly Chopped (About 1 Bunch)
  • 2 Cups Vegetable Stock
  • 4 Ounces Spinach or Other Leafy Greens (Such as Kale, Collards, etc)
  • 1 Cup Coconut Milk (Full Fat, Don’t Skimp!)
  • Zest of 1 Lemon
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to Taste
  • 1/4 Cup Finely Fresh Chives and Chive Blossoms, or Scallions
  • Avocado Oil or Extra-Virgin Olive Oil for Garnish (Optional)

Instructions

  1. Pour the oil into the bottom of a medium soup pot and set it over moderate heat on the stove. Once the oil is hot, add in the leeks and ginger, and sauté for about 5 minutes, until the leeks are soft and the ginger is aromatic.
  2. Sprinkle in the salt, followed by the asparagus and stock. Bring the brothy soup to a boil, then reduce the heat so that it’s at a gentle simmer. Cover the pot and let cook until the asparagus is tender and bright green; about 8 – 10 minutes.
  3. Add the spinach or other greens, and continue to cook just until wilted, only 2 – 4 minutes more should do it.
  4. Turn off the heat and finally incorporate the coconut milk, lemon zest, and pepper. Working in batches if necessary, transfer soup to your blender and thoroughly puree until smooth completely. Alternately, hit it with an immersion blender while still in the pot.
  5. You can either serve the soup right away while still hot, or chill it for at least two hours for a more refreshing blend.
  6. Top individual bowls with chives, chive blossoms, and a tiny drizzle of oil, if desired.

Notes

*Typically, I slit my leeks down the center and then shake them out under cold water until clean, but these were particularly dirty. Thus, I fully sliced them and placed them in a colander with fairly large holes. Tossing them around in the colander under cold water, more of the inner leek was exposed, and I could wash away the excess dirt more easily. Whatever you do, be thorough! These unsuspecting alliums can hold on to a ton of grit, and that will not make for the most pleasant soup.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 602Total Fat: 30gSaturated Fat: 13gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 840mgCarbohydrates: 73gFiber: 32gSugar: 21gProtein: 38g