White Asparagus: A Short Moment of Delight

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When asparagus come into the market in Paris – all over France, really – you almost expect to hear a brass band playing a celebration march.  The vegetable is much anticipated and, when it finally shows up, much admired and much enjoyed.  The unwritten rule with asparagus is: Eat them as often as you can, because it will be another year before you can do this again.

And Parisians take this rule to heart.  You can be sure that if you’re invited to a friend’s home during the season, there’ll be asparagus.  Sometimes a mound of them to be dipped in a sauce, sometimes a few already dressed with a beurre blanc, sabayon, mayonnaise or vinaigrette.  While you might find them in a soup or a light stew or get them alongside fish or perhaps pork, the most usual way to get them is solo: A vegetable this treasured is meant to be fully savored and so it’s given center stage and served as its own course.

The same is true in restaurants.  Asparagus will get pride of place on the menu.  And if they’re white – which are available for an even shorter time – then the band might play even louder.

White asparagus are grown under sand so there’s no photosynthesis.  Their taste seems sweeter to me and not as, well, green and vegetal.  We don’t see white asparagus much in America, but when I see them on a menu, I grab them.  This is a beautiful plate from Via Carota in New York City – the salty ham seems to make the asparagus even sweeter and when you break the poached egg, the yolk becomes the sauce.

Via Carota asparagus

And here’s how they were recently served at Le Comptoir – with grapefruit and pomegranate seeds.

Le Comptoir white asparagus

See how nice and fat the asparagus are?  That’s the way they’re loved in France.  We see pencil-thin asparagus in many markets in the States, but to me, they just seem to hint at what an asparagus can be.  The chubby ones have all the flavor and enough texture to make them truly satisfying.

Another gorgeous, chubby-asparagus dish, this time from the new Paris restaurant, Passarini.

Passarini asparagus

One last thing, if the asparagus are served plain with a dipping sauce, it’s okay to eat asparagus with your fingers! Even the French agree – and they eat almost nothing without a knife and fork.  Get out those finger-bowls.