Wednesday, April 27, 2011

White Asparagus is the New Green

Prized by chefs for its tender spears, white asparagus is lighter and more delicate in flavor compared to its well-known sister, the green asparagus. It is highly seasonal, only available for a scarce few weeks at the end of April and into the beginning of May.

Germans are said to have been the first to introduce the production of white asparagus or “spargel,” made by depriving the spears from sunlight so that they cannot produce chlorophyll. German restaurants will often celebrate the brief season with special “Spargel Karte” menus that showcase the white spears in all their glory. Take a look at what’s on my Spargel Karte menu:

White asparagus custard topped with roasted shallots and pancetta crisp, served beside a baby spinach salad in creamy white balsamic vinaigrette

I underestimated the rarity of white asparagus and had a hard time finding them. Of course it was in the last place I looked, at some random mom and pop-type gourmet fruit and vegetable store right next door to one of the big name supermarkets. I was so happy to have finally have them in my hands that I made this dish as soon as I got home.

The custard turned out nice and light and the flavor of the asparagus really came through. Together with the custard, the smokey crunch of the pancetta crisp, sweet roasted shallots and tangy white balsamic-dressed spinach all made for an excellent lunch. A few blanched spears on the side to showcase the white asparagus at its purest, and it was complete!

White Asparagus Custard
Topped with roasted shallots and pancetta crisp, served beside a baby spinach salad in creamy white balsamic vinaigrette.

Yield: 6-7 servings in small-medium sized ramekins

- 3 eggs
- 8 white asparagus spears + extra for garnish (optional)
- 12 ounces heavy cream + 2-4 ounces extra, heated for pureeing
- Salt for seasoning
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
• To prep asparagus for blanching, lightly peel each spear with a vegetable peeler, and cut off the thick bottoms. Bring a pot of water to a boil and lightly salt the water. Also, prepare an ice filled water bowl for shocking.
• Add the asparagus to the boiling water and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. When done, shock in the ice water to stop the cooking process. After removing the cooled asparagus from the ice water; coarsely chop 8 spears and add to a food processor. Set the rest aside for garnish (if using).
• Pulse the white asparagus in food processor while slowly adding the hot heavy cream until you have a thick puree. In a medium-large bowl, whisk together the puree with eggs, 12 ounces of heavy cream, and salt. Pour the mixture into ramekins, then place the ramekins in a pan filled with ½ inch of water. Bake until custard is set, about 45 minutes.
• Allow the custard to completely cool before removing from ramekins. The custard should easily come loose after running a knife around the edge.
• Pancetta crisps: Place 6-7 thin slices of pancetta on a sheet tray and bake in a 350 degree oven until crisp, 15-20 minutes.
• Roasted shallots: peel and quarter 2-4 shallots (depending on size), and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper; lay out on a sheet tray and roast in 450 degree oven until soft and lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Chop and toss with a little bit of the white balsamic vinaigrette before serving on top of the custard.
• Creamy white balsamic vinaigrette: In a medium sized bowl, mix 6 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar with 1 clove of minced garlic, 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard, and ¼ teaspoon of honey. Slowly whisk in about ¼ of regular olive oil until dressing becomes thick and creamy; season with salt and pepper. Toss with baby spinach or similar green to lightly coat.


Lazaro Cooks! said...

Lovely presented dish. Great flavor profile as well. My kind of custard.

Well done!

Sandra said...

What a lovely presentation! Nicely done Marisa, and great recipe!!!

5 Star Foodie said...

The custard looks so perfectly delicate and what a great contrast in textures to roasted shallots and pancetta crisps. Beautiful presentation, love it!

lostpastremembered said...

FUnny, those white spears put custard in my mind as well. You have done a great dish, so many great flavors and textures. love the crispy bacon with the rich custard. I have so many new recipes to try!

Karen said...

What a beautiful Spargel Karte (I have to admit that makes me giggle!). I've never tried white asparagus but now I want to. And I guess I'd better get moving...I've only got a short window left!
And by the way, your pancetta crisp makes my mouth water.

Jennifer-Adventuresome Kitchen said...

Great recipe Marissa! A perfect festive luncheon! The presentation is beautiful and just makes your ingredients shine.

Tanantha P. said...

Custard is such a brilliant idea Marisa! I love the color too and it sounds so good. Great job!

Faith said...

What a great dish! The idea of asparagus custard is brilliant and I love your gorgeous presentation!

Rosemary said...

WOW! Your white asparagus custard is just beautiful . . . I'm sure it tastes as good as it looks. Kudos to you for great imagination, execution and presention!

Trix said...

I found mine in the last place I looked too! Totally figures. I love the custard idea - and what a smart move to pair it with those shallots, yum.

Healthy Mamma said...

The panchetta was a wonderful accompaniment to the asparagus. I've been eyeing white asparagus at the market.... ;)

Bren said...

Greatl balance of texture. i don't do pancetta but the crisp is such a wonderful addition.

angela@spinachtiger said...

I'll take anything with pancetta on top. This is truly five star.

Victoria said...

The white asparagus is definitely the star of the dish, and yet you managed to offer up a beautifully colorful dish :) love all the textures on there, well-balanced.

RSA Now said...

Look delicious. I love your presentation, the pancetta crisp looks like a flower, giving the dish a very "springtime" feel

Daily Spud said...

Gorgeous combination of textures and flavours - it shows that white asparagus is well worth seeking out!

RSA QLD said...

Thanks a lot for such a nice information about asparagus custard. Custard is a great dish for me but your presentation to make the dish is so simple that any one can make it easily and quickly.