White Asparagus, is a seasonal vegetable that never sees the light of day while growing and is impressively soft and succulent flavor from the very first bite. When cooked white asparagus absorbs the flavor from the stock, bay leave and butter. In this appetizer, I paired the spears with a thinly sliced soft Guanciale (pronounced Gwahn-CHA-leh); which is the cured jowl from the finest pig, a delicate sweet pea purée and a slightly marinated crisp endive, radicchio leaves and fresh mâche.
I chose to prepare this appetizer after having had dinner at the Lincoln Ristorante in the spring, one of the best fine dining restaurants in New York City, which on daily basis caters to opera goers and people who appreciate fine dining. I was inspired after having tried their Asparagi Bianchi, the white asparagus preparation featured in their April-May menu – it simply wowed me with its simplicity, texture and the originality of ingredients used in the dish!
When I researched how to make white asparagus I looked at some techniques from different chefs and online sources, tried a few different methods and chose the one I like working with the best for the following recipe. The white asparagus we usually have in the restaurant is somewhat different from the one sold in stores; it is thicker and longer, and is generally grown and imported from France and Holland — specifically for professional kitchens. The varieties available to us are a bit shorter and thinner and are usually from Peru. If you haven’t tried it yet, now is the time to do so. Check out local markets in your neighborhood. I’ll bet you’ll discover that this elusive vegetable so revered and celebrated in Europe, with its soft light texture and delightful, luscious flavor will be something you’ll want to enjoy over and over again!
Pea purée: Melt the butter in a medium pan, and add the shallot with some salt and pepper, sauté for five-eight minutes (eight minutes for onion, five minutes for shallots) on medium heat until translucent and fragrant, stirring frequently.
Add the thawed peas and vegetable stock to the pan. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for two minutes, or until the peas are bright and tender. Using a blender or food processor, blend the peas, and basil until thick and smooth, and then season to taste with salt and pepper, squeeze some lemon juice to brighten up the flavors.
White asparagus: Snap off the asparagus at its natural breaking point or cut off about 2 inches from the ends with a sharp knife. Peel the spears from the top down one at a time with a vegetable peeler.
Unlike its green-skinned counterpart, white asparagus has a tough, fibrous skin. Using a vegetable peeler, running it from top to bottom of the spear, simply peel it before cooking, for soft and tender results. The spears break easy if peeled mid-air and lay them on the surface instead.
Place the spears in a single layer in a heavy wide saucepan. Add enough stock/or water to cover the spears. Add butter, salt, bay leaf and cook over medium high heat about 8-10 minutes, until the spears are very tender.
Drain and keep at room temperature. If not using the same day, drizzle the spears lightly with some olive oil and refrigerate, bring to room temperature before serving.
Separate endive leaves from the head. Whisk together extra-virgin olive oil and white wine vinegar, add some salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste. Place endive and mâche salad into the vinaigrette and toss carefully to combine.
To serve, place three to four asparagus spears on each plate, top one of the spears with a piece of Guanciale (room temperature) diagonally. To unmold the pea purée, run a small paring knife along the inside walls of the ramekin and deep it into the bowl of hot water.
Flip the ramekin onto the serving plates. Top the spears with slightly marinated endive and mâche salad. Season the dish with salt and white pepper to taste.
White Asparagus Salad with Guanciale, Pink Endive, Mâche & Sweet Pea Purée
recipe detailsServes 4
- 1 pound thick white asparagus spears
- 2 cup chicken stock or water
- 2 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 ½ cup frozen peas, thawed
- 1 medium size yellow onion or shallot, finely diced
- ½ cup vegetable stock
- 3 basil stalks, leaves roughly chopped
- 1 packet of powdered gelatin
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Squeeze of lemon
- 2 small heads of white endive and pink endive
- Handful of fresh mâche salad
- 4 pieces of Guanciale, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- Lemon juice
- Salt and white pepper
KITCHEN TIP It is important to thaw the peas before using; peas shouldn’t have a starchy raw taste once cooked.
KITCHEN TIP Unlike its green-skinned counterpart, white asparagus has a tough, fibrous skin. Using a vegetable peeler, running it from top to bottom of the spear, simply peel it before cooking, for soft and tender results.
Wine Pairing Domaine Valentin Zusslin’s Crémant d’Alsace Brut Zéro Sans Soufre, Alsace, France 2008