The spargel of my eye

asparagus ready to be roasted
Asparagus spears chat amongst themselves prior to meeting some heat in my kitchen.

Springtime. The bright and transitional season typically signified by blooms and allergies going crazy, weather turning warmer, and strawberries and asparagus bringing audible oohs and ahhs at the farmers’ markets.  This spring started like any other, until my unintentional asparagus fascination took root.

The first signs began when I realized last month’s visit to southern Germany could possibly bring me face to face with the famous spargel, or white asparagus.

I first learned about spargel during a visit to Germany with my partner, Sven, four years ago. We were in downtown  Schwetzingen one morning and walked by the spargel statue: a life-sized bronze sculpture of a woman sorting spargel on a table. To the uninformed visitor, it’s seemingly mundane subject matter as monument doesn’t mean much, until you learn that Schwetzingen is the self-proclaimed asparagus capital of the world. The annual harvest of  spargel is a celebration of celebrations. Then and there, I added it to my unofficial (as in mental, not written) list of things to do and experience.

Our spring 2010 trip did not have us paying a visit to Schwetzingen, but I had hoped that in the four days leading up to our departure for Spain that I could see and taste this delicacy in its native habitat. There loomed the possibility that the elements would conspire against me. The winter had been harsh, and spring was unseasonably cool thus far.

During a coffee/tea stop after visiting the Ulmer Münster the morning after we arrived, we saw some spargel displayed on ice outside a local market in Ulm. There they were, the (sort of) mythical sprouts. We didn’t need to buy any. We were en route to Sven’s mother’s house down south, and we heard she was cooking up some spargel with dinner that night. (They were delicious!)

 

spargel, or white asparagus at a market in Germany
My first spargel sighting in Ülm had me overjoyed. Thin and pudgy varieties!
white asparagus, or spargel
Spargel on ice. Very nice! (And very surreal looking, too.)
white and green asparagus
Spargel and grün-spargel.
white, green, and purple asparagus
Spargel season was fully under way after I returned home, so in my absence, Sven, took this picture of spargel at a farmer's market. Three beautiful (and tasty) colors to choose from!

But before I returned to San Francisco, the asparagus radar continued to permeate our travels. We never made it to Spain. Due to Icelandic volcanic ashus interruptus, our flight was cancelled and it would be at least a week until we could re-book. Making the most of the situation and resources at hand, we hopped in the car and drove in the direction opposite the ash cloud. Hello, northern Italy!

And whether on pizza with speck, mixed with other spring vegggies, or in a divine risotto (see below), asparagus continued to sprout up along our journey.

skinny asparagus in italy
Willowy asparagi bundled in a market, Firenze.
asparagus at a market in Italy
Asparagi in a basket, Asti.

 

risotto with asparagus and saffron
On my plate in Alba: risotto carnaroli con pistilli di zaffrano, piselli asparagi e zucchine.

 

I’ve been told that this fine delicacy is now available in grocery stores in the U.S., like a local Safeway, in San Francisco. Okay, so that’s rather surreal and surprising. I wonder if it’s imported…

Spargel. I’ve been there, I’ve done that. I can cross it off the list. What’s next?

7 thoughts on “The spargel of my eye

    1. Oh, I wish I knew the nutritional value comparisons. Someone’s gotta have that out there.

      But I will tell you that from an organizer’s perspective, my favorite part about the spargel harvest was watching this video – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FkL75vcJdo – and seeing how the spargel is sorted and organized by size (begins at the 1:00 mark). See? Even in the world of asparagus, there are standard organizing principles at work!

  1. I love the spargel feature and I love spargel. The photos are delicious! White spargel is a beautiful freak of the vegetable world. It is a bit pale and could use some chlorophyl or rosy cheeks. Following is a spargel formula — the green variety — spears not too fat.

    Trim the asparagus and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces, on the diagonal. Barely cook the asparagus in salted boiling water for 2 or 3 minutes until still quite crisp. Drain, and then shock in ice water. Drain thoroughly when cool. Meantime, in a big bowl, whisk a dash of canola oil, a dash of unseasoned rice vinegar, 2 dashes of (Kikkoman preferred) soy sauce, some grated fresh ginger, minced garlic and freshly ground black pepper, tasting all the way. Adjust to reach a balance with a sprinkling of salt and a little more of this or that, if needed. Add the asparagus to the dressing along with one or two thinly sliced green onions with tops. Toss to coat evenly and mix in a handful of coarsely chopped walnuts, OR a tablespoon or two of toasted sesame seeds. Cover and set aside for a half hour or so to let the flavors marry before serving at room temperature.

    This is an attention-getter at a potluck or party — great picnic food, or just for Tuesday night supper. Osaka Spargel Salad anyone?

    I developed this recipe some time in the 80s for (you guessed it) Kikkoman Soy Sauce. It survives in my mental archives.

    1. Zelda, that recipe sounds amazing. Thank you for sharing it. I love the notion of letting “the flavors marry.” I may have to grab some spears of whichever color I can find before the season is completely over; otherwise, there’s always next year!

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