The white gold from Otterlo
This recipe was written and sent by Lotte van de Hoef.
“Asparagus is called the white gold and is truly amazing. When buying the asparagus, make sure they squeak when you rub them together. The heads should be rather white and when you squeeze it, they should be moist. Try to stay away from supermarket asparagus, and find yourself a nice local farm. Lately it has become clear – once again – that where you buy your products is extremely important. Harvesting asparagus depends on seasonal workers and is a tricky business that requires skill. The though working conditions have eventually led to exploitation of Eastern European workers throughout Dutch asparagus farms, where they work under miserable conditions.
So I biked with my mom to our favourite asparagus farm in Otterlo, where we know that this is not an issue. To stay in the vibe we went to my moms favourite egg-man in Lunteren where you can buy 10 of the freshest eggs from happy chicken for 1 euro. The potatoes and spinach are from Fruittuin van West in Amsterdam.”
Lotte van de Hoef
Like other crops (Belgian endives, Brussels sprouts, soybean sprouts, broccolis sprouts, etc.); the asparagus is a plant that is eaten when it’s still juvenile, white and tender. In fact, if an ‘Asparagus Officinalis’ was left to grow freely, the edible part that we know as asparagus would turn into a 70cm high plant resembling a bush of wild orchids.
Consequently, a field of asparagus looks quite monotonous from a distance, as it is made of small mounts of sand within which precious asparagus shoots are hidden from the sun. Farmers will spend taxing hours checking if any head of their “edible ivory” is sticking out bare under the sun. If they do, they will cover them immediately in order to avoid them turning green by photosynthesis, and by extension, turning thick and bitter. This technique is called: “blanching.”
This method, however, applies mostly to Northern and Eastern European producers. Indeed, Dutch farmers would probably chuckle at the sight of the asparagus fields of their Southern European counterparts, where asparagus heads are left exposed to sunlight. But this is not a pretext to grin and think that Southern European countries are lazier than the Northern; Southern Europeans simply prefer their asparagus green, and find the purple-green-ish tip to be a special delicacy. For the green asparagus, the seasoning of choice is olive oil and Parmesan cheese; as opposed to the classic Hollandaise sauce that often coupled with the Northern “white gold.”
It is important to note that the technique of “blanching” is carried out by leaving the soil bare. The fields are therefore often treated with herbicides, and exposed to erosion (wind can destroy fields). To answer to the fragility of this technique, white asparagus are often cultivated under plastic tarps, in greenhouses, vertical farms, or in dark tunnels, to shield them from the wind. These means of production allow growers to safely produce their “white gold” all year round with little irrigation.
A few white asparagus
Some “baby” potatoes
1 egg per host
A lump of butter
- Cut the hard ends of the asparagus.
- Scrape thick slices of the lengths with a peeler or cheese slicer.
- Boil the leftovers in a pot of water and remove after 30 min.
- Add a few pinches salt and sugar to the pot, add the peeled asparagus
- Lower the heat and simmer for about 5/8 min depending on the thickness. You don’t want them to be too soft.
- Boil the fresh eggs, not too soft because you want them to stay firm when you cut them up.
- Boil “baby” potatoes with some salt for about 10 - 15 min.
- Cut a bunch of wild spinach and stir fry shortly.
- Add a lump of butter and a lot of fresh nutmeg.
- With extra time, make an easy peasy Hollandaise sauce:
- Melt 100 grams of butter and keep it aside.
- Put 1 big or 2 small egg yolks in a blender with a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar and mix it well.
- While mixing, slowly poor in the warm butter bit by bit until it starts to thicken.
- Add some pepper and salt to taste.
- You might be able to find local ones in a wide range of countries, but the “white gold” is specific to Europe. If you live in countries growing green asparagus (China being the n°1 producer), give a try to this recipe anyway.