I first saw white asparagus in May 2005 during a one-day stop in Munich. I had finished my semester of studying abroad in Barcelona (no I don’t speak Spanish, barely a word!) and May was left for backpacking. Munich was an in-between spot before meeting my mom and cousin in what would all be our first visit to Paris.
I don’t remember much about the city except that my friend and I arrived around 7:00am after an overnight train from Naples, stored our luggage somewhere in the train station and headed into the old town. It was a crisp morning, still cold and felt even colder after having spent two weeks in both Greece and southern Italy. I could see my breath again and wrapped myself in a jean jacket that most likely had not been washed since I arrived in Europe four months earlier.
And aside from watching the old clock, having no idea what the word was for breakfast so we could find somewhere to eat breakfast, all I remember is the white asparagus – everywhere. Everywhere I looked, they were tied together in large bunches of tough white stalks and sold on the streets off small carts selling nothing else.
I didn’t give them much thought. I didn’t take a photo because I still had a film camera and clearly boring, colorless asparagus were not something I wanted to waste a picture on. Instagram didn’t exist. And I didn’t Wikipedia anything about “German asparagus tradition” because I didn’t have a smartphone. Yes, we navigated Europe on a budget with a paper map. It was awesome. But that’s where my thoughts about white asparagus ended because they don’t really exist in the States.
It wasn’t until our first spring in Paris that I saw them again. Big bunches and crates overflowing with white asparagus. But this time instead of just some strange vegetable sold in a city where I spent less than six hours, these asparagus meant spring and the hope of warmer weather to come. The white ones arrive first and the market morning when you see their tips peeking out behind beet greens or casually placed next to the tired root vegetables is a really good morning.
This year the white asparagus have been out for a few weeks, which is a vast improvement over last year when we barely spotted them until mid to late May due to the frigid March and April. But this year they’re here and May is what May should be: white asparagus and a lot of French bank holidays. With a jour férié every week, it is common to faire le pont which in American means take a long weekend which means leave Paris. And for the first time since January 1, Philip took a Friday off and we decided to take the quick and easy 90 minute train journey to explore Brussels.
Along with beautiful flowers, there were white asparagus. This time I took photos and I ordered them, prepared in the Flemish style, à la Flamande, which according to our waiter is the only way to eat them. It was fresh, simple, a delicate balance between lemon juice and butter and felt exactly like something we should be eating this time of year. Thank goodness spring was on time.
Later that week back in Paris, I again spotted the white asparagus making it a very good market morning. I bought them and immediately made Asperges blanches à la flamande for our breakfast – or should I say frühstück.
White Asparagus à la Flamande
4-5 White Asparagus, peel the stalks of their tough outer skin
1 hard boiled egg
Handful of parsley (flat or curly), finely chopped
Juice from 1/2 lemon
3 tablespoons of butter, melted
Salt & Pepper
1. Peel and mash up the hard-boil egg into small pieces
2. Finely chop the parsley and add to the egg into a medium-sized bowl
3. Melt the butter, add to the mixture
4. Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste
5. Mix with a fork
6. Lightly steam the asparagus until soft
7. Serve on a plate, pour egg and parsley mixture on top
8. Add a sprinkle of finishing salt
-Can be served room temperature.
-You can vary the amount of parsley you use but I liked using a healthy handful. The typical recipes call for less.
-If you want to make more of the egg & parsley mixture, I think it would be a great addition to any salad for lunch the next day.