“White gold” or “edible ivory” – considered a spring delicacy, white asparagus makes it way to produce markets and grocery stores only one season a year. During the German “Spargelsaison” or “Spargelzeit” (“asparagus season” or “asparagus time”), the season usually starts in late April and finishes in mid to late June. Thanks to a mild winter, white asparagus has officially hit the markets as of March 18th this year!
Since white asparagus spears have never been touched by sunlight, they remain white in color and delicate in texture and flavor. They are cultivated by covering up the shoots with soil as they grow; so without the exposure to sunlight, photosynthesis is unable to start, as a result, the shoots remain white. This requires quite a bit of manual labor to harvest and so the price of the white asparagus is quite a bit higher than fresh green asparagus.
At markets, you can often pick up just the tips, which are great for salads – which is exactly what I used. This salad is really adaptable, it tastes amazing with fennel all on its own or you can substitute white asparagus for the green variety.
Keep in mind when buying white asparagus — purple coloring is considered a flaw so be sure to look for pure white tips. Also, white asparagus has a much woodier outside than the green variety and takes longer to cook. Freshness is also very important and the lower ends of white asparagus must be peeled before cooking or raw consumption. They are best cooked using a tall, narrow asparagus pot, which allows the stalks to steam, while keeping the tender tips out of reach from boiling water.
Shaved Fennel & White Asparagus Salad
For the salad:
1 fennel bulb, cut in half and sliced thinly with a mandoline
500 g white asparagus tips or whole stalks (alternatively, blanched green asparagus)
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly roasted (25 g)
1 tablespoon fresh chopped dill
For the vinaigrette:
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Trim the woody ends off and gently peel the outermost layer of the asparagus stalk with a vegetable peeler (Note: if using green asparagus, it does not have to be peeled).
2. In a pot large enough to hold the asparagus, pour in enough water to come up just to the bottom of the steamer basket or metal colander. Bring to a boil, and place the asparagus in the pot (on top of the colander). Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover. Steam the asparagus for 5-8 minutes, until crisp-tender or until they are soft enough for your taste. NOTE: thinner white asparagus will take about 5 minutes, whereas thicker stalks will take longer.
3. Remove from the water and cool them in an ice water bath. Remove from the cold water and drain well.
4. Whisk together the oil, vinegar, tarragon leaves, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and combine thoroughly.
5. In a serving bowl, toss the shaved fennel and asparagus with the dressing until coated.
6. Garnish with the chopped dill and roasted pine nuts before serving.