ASPARAGUS WITH LEMON BUTTER SAUCE

The asparagus season just started in Germany and I wish I was there. There is a beautiful farmers market in Ludwigsburg (my hometown), it is open three times a week, year round. I used to buy all of our fresh produce at the farmers market. During the asparagus season which lasts from mid April (depending on the weather) until June 24th, the asparagus farmers will suddenly make their entry at the market and we would always buy a pound or two for our Sunday meal. German asparagus is white. The farmers sort stalks into bins - crooked and thin (only used for asparagus soup) to flawless, thick and pure white or light violet. You can choose your price point. When I was a kid, during Spargelzeit (asparagus season) every Sunday meal consisted of a big pile of the very freshest asparagus drizzled with butter and sprinkled with salt plus a potato on the side. And even though this got a little tiring for us as kids we would never say a word and my parents would never serve anything else during this time of year. For when the asparagus season is over, no asparagus will be eaten until next spring when local asparagus becomes available again. This might have been a little rigid, but as an adult, I always try buying seasonal and local produce to support our local farmers.

I cannot readily find white asparagus in America. The green asparagus is a little more intense in flavor but we love it just as well. It is green because it is allowed to grow above ground while the white asparagus is harvested before it crowns the earth. The long mounds of earth are surveyed twice a day and every asparagus stalk that starts to poke out of the ground is cut with a special tool and plucked from the earth. A very labor intensive task. Alas, this recipe couldn't be easier!

SERVES 4-6
  • 1 pound of asparagus
  • 2 tbsp clarified butter
  • 1 shallot very finely minced
  • zest of one lemon
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup of white wine
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 tbsp of cold butter cut into cubes

To make the sauce, melt the clarified butter in a heavy saucepan. Add the shallot and sauté until translucent. Add the lemon juice, lemon zest and white wine and cook for 3-4 minutes to reduce. Strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve to catch the solids. Remove from heat and swirl in the cold butter until the sauce is smooth. Season with salt and pepper and a little more lemon juice to taste. You should wait to swirl the butter into the sauce until the asparagus is done and you are ready to serve, but reheat the sauce until it is hot before you add the cold butter. 

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Wash the asparagus, cut off the tough ends and add the spears to the boiling water. Blanch for 2-4 minutes until the asparagus is tender but still has a bite.

If you are able to find white asparagus, you must peel it before cooking, and it is best when cooked until completely tender. Preferably in an asparagus pot that is tall and slender and holds the asparagus upright to keep the heads of the asparagus out of the water so they will not overcook. If you don't have an asparagus pot you can loosely tie the asparagus spears together with a little cotton string and cook them upright in a large pot. Keep the delicate heads of the asparagus out of the water, they will cook perfectly in just the steam. 

Drizzle the sauce over the cooked asparagus.

Serve with parsley potatoes and a fried egg. All you need to do is to boil the potatoes until tender and toss with a little butter, salt, pepper and a handful of chopped parsley. 

SOURCE: ADAPTED FROM A FAMILY RECIPE

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