It’s 5-Star Makeover time again! This month our subject was white asparagus! White asparagus makes a brief appearance in early spring, and is prized for its tender, delicate flavor. There are places in Europe that go crazy over white asparagus this time of year, but this was the first time I’d ever worked with it. I grew up with an asparagus bed in my backyard, and absolutely love the green stuff, but for me- asparagus has always been a component of a larger dish, not necessarily the star.
White Asparagus gets its color- or lack thereof- by covering the asparagus tips with mulch as they sprout, denying them the opportunity to experience photosynthesis (you know – the process of plants turning carbon dioxide (CO2) into sugars which produce chlorphyll (the green stuff) and oxygen (O2). No sunlight=no green stuff. But, if you store your asparagus on the counter and not in the fridge like I did, beware, the tips will start to turn green!
I think I went through about six pounds of asparagus before landing on my dish. I found the flavor challenging to work with, simply because it’s so delicate, and therefore very easy to overpower with other ingredients. The evolution of my dish went something like this:
I started off thinking about asparagus custard, tarts, maybe even icecream? I landed on what I hoped would become an asparagus tart with a hazelnut crust…the end result was a really nice, creamy quiche….but wasn’t what I was after..
Then, I thought about eggs Benedict, and how I love it when asparagus is paired with ham and hollandaise… So, what if I came up with something that had asparagus in all the components, but looked like an eggs Benedict? I went back to the kitchen and came up with something that looked like this:
So while the colors may be reminiscent of eggs Benedict, in reality it tasted more like an asparagus soup with asparagus tips in hollandaise…sort of…. I was definitely getting closer, but wasn’t there yet. I liked the asparagus in the hollandaise, and I loved the pairing with morels. Morels are a classic spring offering that work beautifully with asparagus of any color. More on those in a moment….
Fast forward a few days… The leftover soup mixture was in the fridge looking creamy and thick, and not unlike leftover crepe batter. What if…….I added some flour and an egg and made a crepe? Then I could fill it with the hollandaise/asparagus/morel mixture, and top with a nice roasted spear…..Now that sounded good. And it was! I ended up saving the hollandaise for the top, and just putting the morels and asparagus inside the crepe with a little gruyere, but the flavor depth I was after was there.
Now a brief digression on Morels. Like any concerned parent who lives in a wet climate, I have repeatedly warned my children to never even touch, let alone consume mushrooms that they didn’t get from the store. They know that while some mushrooms are okay, many are not, and in the wild some deadly mushrooms look exactly like their edible counterparts.
Then I learned that we live in prime Morel country. And, that a friend of mine is an avid morel hunter. AND, that right now is Morel season!! Fortunately, there is no deadly look alike for a morel. There is something that looks similar- a false morel- but is in truth, very different. So- this is why I’m homeschooling my children, right? To take spur of the moment opportunities to spend a day in the woods learning all sorts of botany and biology….and how timely since my asparagus dish is paired with morels!
Off we went to spend a day in the woods. Thanks to the kindness of a stranger, the kids were able to ‘find’ a few precious morels. We also identified blackberries (we’ll be back in June for those!) wild ginger (Thanks Susan!) plenty of poison ivy, and other cool fungi. But mostly, they learned that the woods are their friend; a place to run and explore, and an entity not to fear.
While wild asparagus also grows around here, the challenge is that you don’t really notice it until it has reached the ferny stage, and therefore I have yet to harvest any. And with that, let’s return to the yummy asparagus dish. This dish does take more time to properly prepare than some of the others I’ve posted, but the end result is worth the flavor. This uses just under three pounds of asparagus. Fresh white asparagus is pretty fragile, and ideally should be consumed the day of purchase. If you can’t do that, stand the stems in a little water and let them sit in the fridge. You will notice that the bottoms will begin to turn pink, and that part will have to be removed prior to cooking. The longer you wait after purchase, the less asparagus you’ll be able to use in your dish. That said, three pounds should give you enough for leftovers. Wherever you are, may the flavors of Spring find their way to your table!
White Asparagus Crepes filled with White asparagus and Morels
Serves 6-8 with leftovers
1 lb white asparagus, chopped into 1/2-inch lengths
4 tbs butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup water (or chicken stock)
2 bouillon cubes (if not using stock)
salt/pepper to taste (if using stock)
5-6 egg whites
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1 tsp xanthan gum
4 tbs butter
2 medium garlic cloves, finely diced
1/2-1 lb of white asparagus, chopped into 1/2-inch lengths
1/2-1 cup of diced morels
6 oz gruyere cheese, sliced thinly
For the Hollandaise: (adapted from The Joy of Cooking)
3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 tbs cold water
1/2 cup ghee, melted but not hot
3 tsp lemon juice
For the Spears:
1 slice of prosciutto or serrano ham for every 2 asparagus
enough pairs of spears for 1-2 per crepe (I made 8 total)
Begin by making the crepe batter. Melt butter in a medium saute pan and add asparagus. Saute for about 2 minutes. When you can smell the asparagus, add the heavy cream, water and the bouillon cubes. Bring to a simmer and turn to low. Cook for 10 minutes- the point is to really infuse the liquid with the asparagus flavor. I chose bouillon over stock this time because I didn’t want the heavy cream to dilute the stock flavor.
Remove mixture to a food processor or a blender. Once the mixer has started, remove the ‘pusher lid’ (where you add extra ingredients while it’s running) This will allow the steam to release. Mix for about 1 minute before adding additional ingredients. While the mixture is still blending, slowly add the flours, xanthan gum, and lastly, the egg whites. (I opted to use just whites so that the crepe color was as white as possible, if you use full eggs- reduce the amount to 2 or 3) Blend an additional minute and set aside. Remove the processor lid to allow the mixture to cool while you are preparing the other ingredients.
Next- Make the filling and hollandaise. The creation of hollandaise requires the use of a double boiler. For this recipe, the double boiler will be the filling. There’s enough heat coming off the cooking of the filling that you can just place your hollandaise bowl right on top.
In a small pan, melt butter. Add garlic and morels. When you can smell the garlic, add the asparagus tips. In a medium bowl (something large enough to rest on top of the filling pan) whisk egg yolks and water until frothy. Place bowl on top of the filling pan. Continue whisking until egg mixture has begun to thicken- about 2-4 minutes. When mixture thickens, remove from heat and slowly add melted ghee while continuing to whisk. Add lemon juice and taste. For the purposes of this dish I opted for no salt/pepper. You may choose to add if you like. Set aside for plate preparation.
To make the spears: Using a pastry brush, coat 2 asparagus spears with the oil mixture from the filling. Next, wrap them with prosciutto, serrano ham, or other cured meat. Place on a toaster oven tray. When you’ve assembled the desired number, set toaster oven to 350 and roast for 10-15 minutes. The meat will have crisped up and shrunk around the spears, and the tops of the spears will have just started to crisp, but not discolor.
To assemble: Heat a large saute pan or cast iron skillet. Add a dollop of butter- about 1 tbs and allow it to cover the bottom- it should be sizzling. Ladle a generous scoop of the crepe batter into the pan and swirl it around until it has covered most of the bottom. Allow it to cook until you see little bubbles. Gently flip. Place 2-3 slices of gruyere on the crepe, and 1-2 spoonfulls of the filling. Flip the sides of the crepe onto itself- like an envelope. Remove to a plate. Drizzle with a little hollandaise and top with a prosciutto covered spear. Enjoy!!