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?)

Advertisements

Light Whites for Spring Delights

Fearlessly springing forward, onward to brighter days and warmer weather, it’s time to emerge from hibernation at last. Blossoming alongside the flowers, as tender green buds unfurl their fragrant sails into the wind, is the urge to raise a glass in celebration. The crisp, clean, refreshing flavors of white wine are exactly what the season calls for.

Explore the world of nuanced, diverse white wines right at home through the carefully curated selection from Wine Access. Unique, rare, yet surprisingly affordable bottles perfect for the season can be unlocked with the turn of a corkscrew. Whites are my first pick when opting for a sophisticated sip, but I still don’t know the first thing about selecting the best bottle. That’s why this kind of rigorous vetting is invaluable; it’s impossible to pick a dud from this exclusive roster.

What makes a great white wine at this time of year? For food pairings, it should play nicely with delicate green vegetables, mild proteins, and sweet citrus, while still offering some substance and body. It should be cool, but not cold, for those evenings when there is still a bit of a nip in the air.

Starting the party with a bang, a velvety curtain of fine bubbles lifts with the first sip of this NV Langlois-Chateau Cremant de Loire Brut Loire Valley. Crafted like a fine champagne, it unfolds in layers, leading with acidity reminiscent of grapefruit that morphs into notes of tart green apple, finishing with a crisp, mineral bite. Pair with an elegant starter like creamy asparagus and coconut soup to best compliment these bold bubbles. It helps to cut the richness, while harmonizing with the bright citrus notes and subtle vegetal sweetness.

Herbaceous notes of tarragon and the tropical twang of kiwi and pineapple set the 2018 Kinfolk Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley apart from the pack. Pleasantly grassy, yet slightly floral with a hint of jasmine, it’s unlike any other white I’ve encountered. Lingering long after each taste, the surprisingly assertive flavor can stand up to stronger dishes, like the funky blue cheese on a classic wedge salad.

When you want a juicy, luscious white wine that’s as sumptuous in the glass as it is on the plate, look no further than the 2018 Tinpot Hut Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough New Zealand. Dazzlingly acidic with a sharp nose combining lemons, lychees, and limes, it’s strong enough to take the heat in the kitchen. Fiddlehead scampi positively sings with this vibrant, fruit-forward infusion. Naturally, those fickle ferns can be a bit tough to find early in the season, so I’m happy to report that it’s just as delicious with your garden variety zucchini, too. Fava beans or artichoke hearts would be equally delicious substitutions, verdant and elegant, ideal for tangling around al dente strands of pasta.

Just like the season itself, this is just the beginning. Wine Access has so much more to offer for every occasion, even if it’s just an evening at home. Revel in the warmer weather and raise a glass to the bounty of spring produce making a triumphant return on the table. For a limited time, you can get 15% off your purchase by exploring this collection, and shipping is included for all orders over $120 or 6 bottles or more. Leap into spring to greet the sunshine with only the best white wines at hand.

This blog post is sponsored by Wine Access but as always, the opinions and experiences expressed in this post are my own.

The Mother Lode

She a teacher, a cleaner, a party planner, and a cheerleader. She’s your biggest fan and most honest critic. She drove you around town after school while driving you crazy at the same time. She’s your mom, through good and bad, and while she deserves more than just a day for a lifetime of love, this coming Sunday is at least a good opportunity to say thanks. Naturally, I’m most inclined to express my appreciation through food.

Fixing a fresh brunch spread for your beloved mother is really a gift for everyone, including yourself. Who wouldn’t want to settle into a leisurely midday meal, ideally taken al fresco, surrounded by friends and family? I’ve shared some ideas for a crowd-pleasing menu in the past, but I’ve hit upon so many new winners since them. Freshen up your own maternal celebration with something different this year.

Let mom wake up slowly with a chilled Cloud Macchiato in bed. If she’s late to rise anyway and ready to party before her feet hit the floor, consider adding a little splash of coffee liqueur for an extra little indulgence.

While she’s busy greeting guests, surprise them with an early appetizer of crackers or crudite served with Pea Leaf Cazuela. If you’re contending with unseasonably hot spring weather, prepare it in advance and serve cold. You’ll save yourself the hassle of last-minute cooking in the morning, too.

Kick off the main event with small bowls of punchy Chive Pesto Soup. Though unassuming on paper, the verdant green blend comes together in a matter of minutes and pays off in surprisingly complex layers of flavor.

I can only speak for myself, but if I was a mom, I would all but demand that avocados show up at my party in some form. Avocado Grapefruit Salad features my favorite fruit with a zippy citrus dressing that will satisfy any cravings.

When it comes to the entree, don’t hold back. This is an event worthy of this show-stopping, unconventional, unforgettable Green Cauliflower Cake. A savory torte reminiscent of a thick frittata stuffed with tender florets, you’ll do your mother proud by finally eating your vegetables with aplomb.

When it comes to dessert, you know your own mom best, but it’s hard to go wrong with chocolate. My own happens to have a soft spot for cheesecake, so this Marbled Chocolate Chip Cheesecake would be an easy win on my table.

To all the strong women leading the way (deliberately or not) for future generations, Happy Mother’s Day!

May Flowers

Long before it became associated with the labor movement and civil unrest, the 1st of May was a Celtic festival celebrating fertility, the renewal of springtime, and the coming summer crops. Marked more by flowers and bonfires than any food or drink, it’s not exactly high on the list for modern revelry. That said, there’s no reason why we can’t have our bouquets and eat them, too.

Nasturtium are some of my favorite edible flowers for their shockingly vibrant red, orange, and yellow tones, but most importantly when we’re talking about food, the spicy bite they conceal in those bold petals. Peppery, like a spicy mustard in flavor, they’re reminiscent of watercress and go a long way to add a bright punch in any fresh dish. The leaves, seed pods and flowers are all edible although of course, the blossoms have the most brilliant visual impact. Beyond that eye candy factor, they’re quite the little nutritional powerhouses, high in vitamin A, C, and D.

For the super thrifty, buds and seeds can be pickled and used as a substitute for capers. Used in concert with the flowers, you’re well on your way to a unique seasonal treat.

Another approach to preserving your harvest is to turn the greens into pesto. Use right away or freeze in cubes for long term storage. Simply pop out a cube or two and thaw directly in hot pasta to enjoy the fruits (and veggies) of your labor all year round.

Make the leaves into a Greek-inspired meal by using them to prepare dolma, instead of the traditional preserved grape or fig leaves. Chose larger leaves to accommodate a greater volume of filling and steam lightly to make them a bit more pliable before rolling.

Anywhere you might use tender greens like spinach or arugula, nasturtium leaves can fill in the gaps, too! Shred them into thin ribbons and incorporate into quick stir fries, soups, and of course both raw and lightly wilted salads.

Consider stuffing the blossoms with cashew cheese and serving them chilled or flash-fried like you would with baby squash blossoms. Since I find it almost impossible to track down the latter at any reasonable price, the allure of a readily available, completely free, foraged alternative is too much to resist. They’re brilliant served all by their lonesome, or used to top crackers, sliced cucumbers, or toast.

Speaking of toast… As you can see from the photo above, one of my favorite ways of highlighting the bright flavors and bold colors of the nasturtium is to simply use it as a toast topper. Instantly elevate the mundane, everyday slice of bread to something Instagram-worthy, and awaken your taste buds with the surprising peppery pops of flavor they conceal. Once you have these potent and beautiful blossoms in hand, there’s truly no way to go wrong.

Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peas

Some may find it crude. Some may be downright offended. I’ve simply decided to fully embrace all the pea-ness that this fleeting spring harvest has to offer. Really, there’s no way of going back at this point. I’ve already pea’d on my pizza. I even pea’d on my toast– At work, no less! Dining alfreso has been a true joy as the weather continues to improve, allowing me to pea outside with Luka, too. It’s safe to say that I’m going to keep on pea-ing everywhere until this stream of inspiration runs dry.

Did you really think I could resist sharing another pea-s of my mind before the short growing season passed us by? Girl, peas.

Hungry but tired after a full day of work, I seriously had to pea by the time dinner rolled around. Riffling through the fridge and pantry yielded a few delectable treasures to create an instant, effortless peas de résistance. Spinach and ricotta ravioli, quickly sauteed in garlic and butter, needs no further culinary intervention to shine, but a light sprinkle of coarse black pepper and crunchy veggie bacon certainly didn’t hurt.

Still, for all that fancy frippery, the real focal point of this meal was still those glorious green orbs; the overall combination easily a-peas’d my appetite.

Dig In

Unless referring to the planet itself, “earthy” is a descriptor of dubious praise. Much like the ambiguous label of “interesting,” such a word can be interpreted in many ways- Mostly negative. Mushrooms and beets can be earthy, and for as fervently as their fan clubs will tout the word as praise, their detractors just as quickly adopt it as evidence for their disdain. Telling someone to “eat dirt,” is a fairly clear insult, on the other hand, although I have no qualms recommending charcoal, ash, or lava for your next meal. Still, the mental imagery of picking up a handful of soil and chowing down inevitably leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth.

This was the war of words I battled when agonizing on this new recipe’s title. Designed as a celebration of spring, gardening, and new growth, the original title was simply “Dirt Dip.” The dirty truth of the matter is that each distinctive strata was inspired by nature; worms, dirt, pebbles, and grass. Appetizing, right? Perhaps honesty is not the best policy here. Let’s start over.

Bursting forth with vibrant flavors ideal for celebrating the vernal equinox, I present to you my layered garden party dip. A base of savory caramelized onions sets a deeply umami foundation upon which this dynamic quartet is built. Fresh lemon and mint mingle just above in a creamy yet chunky black bean mash. Briny black olive tapenade accentuates these bold flavors, adding an addictive salty note that makes it impossible to resist a double-dip. Sealing the deal is a fine shower of snipped chives, lending a mellow onion note to bring all the layers together. Make sure you really dig in deep to get a bite of each one!

Yield: 8 - 10 Servings

4-Layer Garden Party Dip

4-Layer Garden Party Dip

A base of savory caramelized onions sets a deeply umami foundation upon which this dynamic quartet is built. Fresh lemon and mint mingle just above in a creamy yet chunky black bean mash. Briny black olive tapenade accentuates these bold flavors, adding an addictive salty note that makes it impossible to resist a double-dip. Sealing the deal is a fine shower of snipped chives, lending a mellow onion note to bring all the layers together.

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes

Ingredients

Caramelized Onions:

  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 Large Red Onion, Halved and Thinly Sliced
  • Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Lemon-Mint Black Bean Dip:

  • 1 15-Ounce Can (or 1 1/2 Cups Cooked) Black Beans, Drained and Rinsed
  • 3 Cloves Roasted Garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon Lemon Zest
  • 2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 3 Tablespoon Fresh Mint, Finely Chopped
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

Tapenade:

  • 1 Cup Pitted Black Olives
  • 1 Tablespoon Capers
  • 1 Clove Garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon Fresh Parsley, Chopped

Garnish:

  • 1/2 – 1 Ounce Fresh Chives, Finely Chopped

Instructions

  1. The caramelized onions will take the longest to prepare, so get them cooking first by setting a large skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and sliced onion, tossing to coat. Once the pan is hot and the onions become aromatic, turn down the heat to low and slowly cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 – 45 minutes until deeply amber brown. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool.
  2. Meanwhile, make the bean dip by either tossing everything into your food processor and pulsing until fairly creamy and well-combined, or mashing the ingredients together in a large bowl by hand. You want to leave the dip fairly coarse for a more interesting texture, so stop short of a smooth puree if using the machine.
  3. The tapenade is made just as easily. Either pulse all of the components together in your food processor or chop them by hand, until broken down and thoroughly mixed.
  4. Finally, to assemble the dip, select a glass container to enjoy the full effect of your work. Smooth the caramelized onions into the bottom in an even layer, followed by the bean dip and then the tapenade. Sprinkle chives evenly all over the top. Serve at room temperature or chilled, with cut vegetable crudites, crackers, or chips.

Notes

The dip can be prepared in advance if stored in an air-tight container in the fridge, for up to a week.


Nutrition Information:

Yield:

10

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 96Total Fat: 6gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 259mgCarbohydrates: 9gFiber: 3gSugar: 1gProtein: 3g