White asparagus are to green asparagus as veal is to beef. They're not always available, and when raised right, they're tender and pale. Conveniently, I'm not aware of a single vegetable rights groups proclaiming that growing asparagus in light-deprived conditions (to keep them white) is morally wrong.
Last night, I made a tasty and eye-catching white asparagus side dish. I started by sautéing a sliced shallot in butter. Next, I added some fiddlehead ferns (a Whole Foods find). After a few minutes, I added white asparagus, a little fresh dill, salt, and pepper. The fiddleheads have a nutlike flavor and texture that played off the less complex sweet crunch of the white asparagus.
White asparagus is not the cheapest in-season vegetable. Though tasty on its own, it offers more culinary bang for the buck when mixed with other vegetables. It is a small worthwhile splurge.
The perfect white asparagus spear is so delicately crisp it's nearly brittle. It will taste just shy of sweet for the first bite or two, followed by a subtle, barely bitter finish. White asparagus can be turned into edible ribbons with a vegetable peeler, which is a great way to dress up a salad or vegetable recipe. White asparagus is best in simple recipes with other ingredients that don't overpower its gentle nature.
A combination of peppery arugula, white asparagus, and a splash of balsamic vinegar is a nearly perfect stand-alone summer salad. Heaped on a wedge of cantaloupe, this simple salad can easily anchor a weekend lunch or brunch. Sprinkled with some pomegranate seeds, it's easy on the eyes and the palate.
For a standout side dish, you can't beat a combination of white asparagus and baby carrots. Start by cooking the carrots in butter or olive oil. Add the asparagus when the carrots are nearly cooked, because the asparagus needs less time in the pan. Red or yellow carrots are impressive, but the orange ones taste the same and offer nice a contrast.
There's always someone willing to pay more for a preferred brand of beer or a specific label on a pair of jeans. In this context, an extra dollar or two is a small price for something that's hard to grow, rarely available, and brings a uniquely subtle taste-texture combination to any table.
Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.