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?)