Coast Cooking

Fresh asparagus can be prepared in many tasty ways

Caption Asparagus served with cheese grist is surprisingly good as a main course or side.
Caption Asparagus served with cheese grist is surprisingly good as a main course or side. Special to the Sun Herald

Fresh asparagus is an elegant vegetable, what makes it so I am not sure.

But long tender spears of white or green asparagus, adorned with a creamy sauce will usually get your guests’ attention.

In central Germany, where I grew up, the asparagus season is much-anticipated.

When the just-picked spears hit the markets, every restaurant in town will have an asparagus special.

But what they will be serving is white, not green. White asparagus are raised in an odd mounded row and when the tip of the spear just begins to break the surface it is harvested. Having never seen the sunshine, it is white.

If you really get into asparagus, you can buy a specialty pot designed to cook them just right. It is a tall, thin stock pot, with a wire basket that can be lowered into the hot water, leaving the tips out of the water so they do not overcook, but making sure the thicker stalk is cooked just right. They cost from $20 to $100 to or so, and I do recommend them if you are going to cook asparagus often.

White Asparagus and Hollandaise Sauce

In central Europe this is the classic pairing of fresh white asparagus and sauce.

1 bunch white asparagus

4 egg yolks

1 stick butter

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 pinch cayenne

Remove the tough lower stems of the asparagus and peel the thick skin on the lower part of the shaft. Steam in water fortified with lemon juice and butter, but just until tender. Please do not overcook. Cut the cold butter into 4-5 pieces. In a double boiler (bain Marie) over low heat, add the egg yolks and whisk until they just start to thicken, add a lump of butter and repeat the process. When the butter has been used, add the lemon juice and cayenne. Continue whisking until the sauce is as thick as you like. Remember to control the heat or you will have scramble eggs.

Plate the asparagus and top with hollandaise, serve at once. Serve with a nice dry Riesling.

Baked Asparagus and Cheese Grits

This is not a classic pairing at all, but is just a Southern twist that I like.

1 bunch green asparagus

1-2 tablespoons butter

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 cup Mississippi-made grits

2 cups chicken stock

1/3 cup heavy cream

½ cup grated white cheddar cheese

Salt and pepper

Toss the asparagus in olive oil, season with salt and pepper, dot with butter and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove and fork test for tenderness. Heat the stock in a sauce pan, whisk in the grits and simmer. You will undoubtedly need more stock, so have some heated stock handy. Simmer until done, adding more stock as you go. The timing varies widely, just taste occasionally. It is not something you can rush. When the grits are ready add the cheese and cream. Cook 2-3 minutes longer. Plate the grits, top with the asparagus and serve at once.

Asparagus Holstein

1 bunch asparagus

1 farm fresh egg per person.

This is a great little recipe, as the sunny side up egg adds a richness and also serves as a sauce. Cook the asparagus using one of the two methods above. If you have an immersion circulator, cook the eggs at 63 Celcius for 40 minutes, if not just cook gently in butter or poach. Plate the tender asparagus, top with an egg, and add a splash of lemon juice or a sprinkle of Parmigiano-reggiano if you like.

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