White asparagus time

Crumbs on the Table White AsparagusI lucked into some white asparagus at the Norwich market yesterday, flown in from Germany where it is highly favoured.  The ‘spargel’ season there (‘spargelzeit’) is a national craze of sorts, with restaurants and cafés offering it multiple ways on a single menu to make the most of the short season, which typically peaks from May through June.

The stall holder who sold me yesterday’s pristine bunch told me his customers in this university town are mostly Europeans who go through at least two kilos a week; at £21 a kilo, that’s true love (and/or homesickness). The British customers, he tells me, are just as enthusiastic about the green variety, grown a few miles away in the fields of Norfolk — still a seasonal splurge at £8-12 a kilo.

I love both green and white, and they are completely different in taste.  The white asparagus, at its best, is subtle in flavour, meltingly tender and tastes almost buttery, but cleaner — juicy, rather.  It’s not at all ‘grassy’ like the green stuff, and is somewhat stringier.  It has a complex quality, somewhere between earthy and refined, and is less obviously asparagus-like than its green counterpart.

White asparagus is the same plant as the green, but is cultivated in trenches so the spears can be blanched; they are covered with soil as they emerge in order to prevent photosynthesis (and thus the production of the chlorophyl that would turn them green).  The method is similar to the manual method for blanching leeks to produce longer white parts.  Asparagus grows much faster, so it is an even more labour-intensive crop, which along with its short season and popularity, accounts for the price it commands.

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Cambridge in June: spring lamb and summer strawberries


[This article is one of a series of Crumbs on the Table  monthly food columns published in Weekend  (editor, Alice Ryan), the Saturday supplement of the Cambridge News.  We meet two exceptional Cambridgeshire producers: a strawberry grower who welcomes the public into his fields to pick their own; and a young farmer who raises and butchers his own lambs. This month’s recipes make the most of both: there’s a light lamb curry with fresh mint, ideal for summer; and an all-time favourite showstopper strawberry tart with crème pâtissière and a white chocolate drizzle.] [Read More…]

Strawberries in melted white chocolate

CrumbsontheTableStrawberrieswWhiteChocolateSay it’s strawberry season and the berries are full of sun: really delicious at last.  Say you are having a dinner party and you want a special dessert in no time.  Say it’s been a hard day and you want a guaranteed treat and can’t be bothered to do anything complicated?

Well, unwrap a bar of white chocolate and break it up into a pouring jug.  Microwave it gently for 30 seconds, stir, give it another 10-30 seconds, and stir again until it’s completely smooth.  Pour the liquid chocolate into a small dish or wide mouthed glass and serve with a few of those gorgeous berries.  Dip the berries into the chocolate and pop them in.  There you have it. [Read More…]