Monday, April 8, 2019

I’m dreaming of a white asparagus

I’ve heard about the legendary white asparagus of the Veneto for some time, having spent a year in Padova in the early 2000s, but only recently did I have to opportunity to sample this exquisite delicacy. We had the good fortune to enjoy a weekend visit to the home of expert chefs Stefano Mammi and Nancy Jenkins. Stefano is a chemistry professor raised in Padova, and he and American-born wife Nancy acquired their culinary expertise from Stefano’s mom; thus, we had the privilege of savoring a famous regional dish prepared in a truly traditional manner—and we can now testify that asparagi bianchi is renowned for good reason.

White asparagus is basically green asparagus that is grown under cover of dirt or straw to prevent exposure to sunlight, which deprives it of chlorophyll. This gives it a more delicate and less grassy flavor. Food samplers from America’s Test Kitchen said the white asparagus they tried resembled “a cross between peas and turnips,” but they were eating a product exported from Peru and added that its delicate flavor may have “faded during shipping and storage.”

Stefano and Nancy, of course, used farm-fresh asparagus, first peeling it and then steaming it slowly for two hours. Then they served it with sliced boiled eggs, drizzling everything with olive oil and sprinkling with salt and pepper. Simplicity, freshness, expert preparation are the hallmarks of an Italian kitchen, and we appreciated the blending of flavors. Because Nancy had peeled away the tough outer skin, even the thick ends were soft, and the delicate tops were even more pleasing, melting on our tongues with a tangy delight. The only thing I might change is to add a couple of stalks of green asparagus for visual appeal and also to compare the taste of the two types.

White asparagus is not widely available, and it is expensive—but if you find yourself in the Veneto in spring time, it’s a luxury worth sampling, either in your own kitchen or even better in the hands of an experienced Italian cook.

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