Spargelzeit, Germany's asparagus season; hundreds of small wooden booths displaying freshly cut white stalks appear, alongside asparagus fields filled with rows of earth mounds. Stores and farmers markets are suddenly taken over with tray upon tray of "Spargel", bound in bunches or lying loose. While almost everywhere that serves food, from five star restaurants to bistros and small bars, will have a long and varied Spargelkarte. Their special asparagus menu.
Some menus will feature set meals with eight or even sixteen courses, all with "The Royal Vegetable", asparagus, in one form or another.
While German dinner tables might not offer such a wide choice but at least at the beginning of the season they will be covered with dishes filled with everything "Asparagus", from simple and easy asparagus recipes to wildly extravagant.
In Germany food is rarely eaten out of season, so when asparagus finally arrives it is Spargelzeit and "Asparagus Fever" takes over the country for a few short weeks. From around mid-April until the end of June a majority of Germans will be united in their devotion to this tender, and delicious, early spring vegetable.
The classic, and probably most popular, way of serving white asparagus is this quick and easy recipe. Peeled white stalks are cooked in boiling water to which a little salt, sugar and butter have been added. Left for between 5 and 10 minutes depending on their thickness, and standing upright so the tips are above the liquid.
The asparagus is then served with a pale yellow Butter or Hollandaise sauce: accompanied by thinly sliced Black Forest Ham, a spiced smoked ham, or Boiled Ham, and lightly salted New Potatoes. These all allow the natural flavor of the asparagus to dominate.
But there is a choice between butter or Hollandaise sauce, with most people preferring one to the other and staying with it year after year, so both will be on the table.
Unlike green asparagus, white asparagus must be peeled before using, and these peelings, together with the "woody" stem that has to be cut or broken off, can be used to make a basic broth which, after filtering, makes an ideal stock for a cream of asparagus soup with just some freshly chopped pieces of asparagus, seasonings, (salt, pepper, nutmeg, finely chopped parsley or chervil) and cream added.
White asparagus is milder in flavor and more tender than green asparagus, but either color can be used in recipes. German asparagus fans plan for about a pound per person as a main dish, so the quantities of this baked asparagus recipe, which is for four smaller portions, would always be doubled.
ASPARAGUS WITH ORANGE AND LIME HOLLANDAISE SAUCE - quantities for 4
2 lbs Asparagus
4 teaspoons Salt
2 teaspoons Sugar
4 teaspoons Butter
Orange and Lime Hollandaise Sauce
4 tablespoons Water
2 tablespoons Egg Yolk
4 tablespoons Orange Juice
1 tablespoon Lime Juice
4 oz melted butter
1 teaspoon Orange Zest, from untreated or carefully washed orange
Cayenne or Chili Pepper
Peel the Asparagus from top to bottom and break or cut off the 'woody' end
Divide into four portions and place onto four pieces of Aluminum Foil
Sprinkle with salt and sugar and add one teaspoon of butter in each packet before closing tightly
Put in preheated oven 180 degrees C, 350 degrees F
Bake for 30 minutes
While the asparagus is cooking:
Mix the water with Egg Yolk.
When combined add the Orange Juice and the Lime Juice stirring until thoroughly mixed.
Add Orange Zest and stir through.
Place on medium heat and continuing to stir slowly add the Melted Butter.
Bring to taste with a little Salt and Cayenne/Chili Pepper
Open the packets, place contents on hot dishes, spoon sauce over the asparagus, and decorate with finely chopped chives, parsley or chervil and thin slices of orange.
Serve with Smoked, Pan Fried or Baked Salmon, New Potatoes, Puff Pastry Triangles or Tagliatelle.
Now to deal with the asparagus peelings which have been left. You can make a stock, allow the flavors to develop and freeze it. Or keep it in the refrigerator for a few days then use for an asparagus soup recipe, such as "Asparagus Soup with Sliced Pancake". A regional specialty soup from Swabia, Baden-Württemberg.
To Make The Stock
Wash the peel and stalk ends to make sure there is no soil on them and place in pan with chicken or vegetable stock and water.
Bring to boil
Take down to a simmer and leave simmering for 10 minutes, remove from heat.
Allow to marinate for a few hours or overnight so the flavors develop.
Remove asparagus peel and cuttings, and your stock is ready.
SPARGELSUPPE MIT FLÄDLE - Asparagus Soup with Sliced Pancake
1/2 lb White Asparagus if using an asparagus stock, if not then take 1 lb
2 cups Asparagus, Chicken or Vegetable Stock
2 cups water
2 tablespoons butter
Seasonings - Salt, Pepper, finely chopped Parsley and/or Chervil
(Can also use a mix of green and white asparagus for this recipe, a few green stalks add a slightly different flavor and more color)
Peel asparagus. (Make stock as in previous steps if necessary, otherwise these fresh shavings can be washed and frozen to be used later)
Cut peeled asparagus stalks into smallish equal pieces, keep tips separate as they are more delicate.
Gently fry pieces in the butter, or olive oil if you prefer, for about five minutes. Do not allow to brown.
Place together with the butter or oil into the stock, add the tips, return to the boil, lower heat, and cook until they are the texture you like, add seasoning to taste.
Some of the liquid can be blended together with about one third of asparagus, not the tips, and then re-added to the soup, this makes it creamier. Bring back to heat.
Make or buy thin crepe style pancakes. Roll them up tightly and slice into thin coils, (Flädle), and add these to your Schwabian Asparagus Soup after it has been served as they fall apart quickly.
Guten Appetit!.....And enjoy your Spargelzeit
Photo 1 courtesy Spargel.net, photo 2 courtesy Lecker.de