I can always tell ‘spring has sprung’ by the infusion of bright colors and vibrant flavors that begin to appear in food markets. The early greens are often bitter and attention-grabbing apparently by design. After long winters full of a small number of root vegetables to tide one over, the snarky greens of first spring deliver much needed nutrients and a kick start to the body.
Asparagus is synonymous with spring with its prime month of availability being April. Our local crop can often lag in availability though has made its appearance in stores signaling the end of winter. Most are familiar with standard green asparagus but this is only one variety of the tender spring stalk.
I discovered white asparagus while on a business trip to Boblingen Germany a number of years ago. I worked in high tech at the time and was visiting one of our international customers who had a plant there. The days of meetings often were identical no matter where in the world we were and frankly one would never distinguish one venue from the next were it not for a localized accent or the outside scenery. This specific visit fell on a particularly exciting occasion. We’d plodded through our action items for the morning and as we neared lunchtime our host became very animated, priming us that we had a treat in store for lunch.
Our visit fell amidst white asparagus season. For only two treasured weeks this crop was available and prepared with great devotion by the onsite kitchen staff. I had not heard of white asparagus nor tasted it so I too was quite excited.
White asparagus is without pigment due to being grown without exposure to light. It is more tender and mild in flavor than standard green asparagus. I personally have experienced it to have a woodier exterior which I peel before cooking (though there is debate about whether it requires peeling or not). White asparagus is more commonly found in Europe and I was told by my local Whole Foods produce manager that Americans seems unsure how to prepare it and thus much of it is wasted. Despite its unique qualities, white asparagus is completely interchangeable with green asparagus in recipes.
I snapped up some white asparagus as soon as it arrived and wanted pair it with other tastes of spring. I settled on a salad with my personal favorite green, peppery arugula, some quick-pickled yellow beets (and I’m not a beet eater), organic rainbow carrots and slices of Bartlett pear (the latter being produce that ushers us from the cold months into spring before bidding adieu). The asparagus may be served chilled or at room temperature. With a Meyer Lemon White Balsamic vinaigrette this dish could not be a more perfect ode to springtime.
White Asparagus Arugula Spring Salad with Meyer Lemon White Balsamic Dressing
- 2 small Golden Beets (about 6 ounces)
- 1 ½- 2 cups Apple Cider Vinegar
- 1 tablespoon unsalted Butter
- 1 tablespoon Dill Seed
- Juice of ½ Lemon
- 1 bunch White Asparagus (12-16 ounces), ends trimmed and peeled to the lower end of the tip
- 3 Rainbow Carrots , scrubbed (peeled if not organic), thinly sliced
- 6 cups Arugula , rinsed well and dried
- 1 Bartlett Pear , ripe but firm
- 3 tablespoons Meyer Lemon Olive Oil
- 3 tablespoons White Balsamic Vinegar
- White Pepper and Kosher Salt to taste
- Garnish: Lemon Thyme
Peel and grate the beets. Put them in a container (with a tight fitting lid). Cover them with the apple cider vinegar. Seal; shake to combine and set aside. Periodically rotate the container. Leave for 30 minutes.
Prepare an ice water bath in a container large enough to hold the asparagus. Set aside.
Select a pot large enough to hold the asparagus; fill it with water and over high heat bring the water to a boil. Add the butter, lemon juice and dill seed. Allow the butter to melt and place the asparagus into the water until it’s firm but cooked; about 3-5 minutes. Remove and promptly add to the ice water bath to stop the cooking process. Remove after 2 minutes and wrap in paper towels or a clean kitchen towel to absorb extra water.
Preparing the pear: Rinse and dry the pear. You may peel the pear if you choose (not required). Slice the pear vertically into very thin slices; cut away any of the seeds or core present from the slices.
Prepare four dining plates with 1 ½ cups arugula each. Drain the quick-pickled beets and sprinkle evenly with one fourth of the beets per plate. Add one fourth of the sliced carrots and pear to each plate. Gently layer each plate with one fourth of the cooked asparagus spears.
Making the Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette: Meyer lemon olive oil has a bit of sweetness to it. Normally I prefer ½ olive oil and ½ vinegar to my dressings but it’s personal as to how you like the taste. I suggest mixing the Meyer Lemon Olive Oil and the White Balsamic Vinegar in a small jar. Shake it up, taste it and balance with more olive oil or vinegar to meet your liking. Salt and pepper to taste.
Dress the prepared salad lightly, garnish with Lemon Thyme and serve.