Wednesday, 13 July 2011

White Asparagus

You may recall I bought some white asparagus a couple of weeks back on our trip to Borough Market. White asparagus is a bit of a delicacy, and a new one to me that I'd wanted to try for ages. It's exactly the same stuff as green asparagus but grown in the dark, which produces a sweeter, milder, nuttier flavour and a rather different texture; crisp to the bite but smooth. It also tends to be thicker, and usually needs peeling to remove the woody outer skin.

White asparagus requires a much longer cooking time than green - some 10-15 minutes - but is prone to absorbing much too much water if overcooked, so you have to be careful! Some chefs recommend boiling it in water with salt and sugar and a splash of lemon juice, to concentrate the sweetness and prevent discolouration.

Some quick internet research showed that it pairs best with salty or nutty flavours. Hams or strong hard cheeses such as parmesan are common accompaniments, as are nuts, mushrooms and truffles. Handy then that I'd just invested in some truffle-infused olive oil too...

White truffles are said to go best with mushrooms, eggs and beans, so after a bit of thought I decided on a carbonara-inspired dish of spaghetti, mushrooms and the asparagus, with a seasoned cream and egg mixture stirred in at the last minute so that it cooks onto the other ingredients. Sadly it's not exactly the best-looking dish in the world, what with white asparagus, white spaghetti, white mushrooms, white parmesan and white bread...

White Asparagus Spaghetti
(serves two)
  • Cut 6-8 spears white asparagus on the diagonal into 1" lengths and boil with a little salt, a little sugar and a tablespoon of lemon juice for 10-13 minutes, until al dente but not soggy.
  • Boil 150g spaghetti in salted water.
  • Saute sliced mushrooms and a couple of crushed cloves of garlic in a generous knob of butter. 
  • Break one large egg into a cup or bowl and beat very well. Beat in an equal amount of double cream and a glug of truffle oil (optional). Season.
  • Stir cooked asparagus pieces, spaghetti and mushrooms together on the heat.
  • Remove from heat and quickly stir in the egg mixture until it is cooked.
  • Check seasoning, and serve with crusty bread.

Mmmmmm. An indulgent meal for an indulgent evening. It's rich but the flavours are delicate, and the salty parmesan certainly sets it off well. Of course, this dish would work fine with green asparagus too.

Will I be going out of my way to eat white asparagus again? Well, it's good, it's different, but I love the green stuff and I don't think this is necessarily better. Although I might be tempted to splash out again for a special occasion, at nearly twice the price I certainly won't make it a habit!

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