White Asparagus with Warm Macadamia Pesto
As I write these words asparagus spears in France, Holland, Spain, California and elsewhere are beginning to push out from below the soil reaching for the first rays of sun to fuel the photosynthesis process and turn them green. This is true for green asparagus but not so for white. White asparagus, the same species as the green, remains white because it is grown in the dark under a mound of soil (and sometimes black plastic sheets), preventing sunlight from reaching the stalks and making them green (the process is called etiolatio).
White asparagus is a spring delicacy, perhaps because of its delicate flavour or because it is available only briefly during spring. It may be a bit early here in the 49th parallel for white asparagus but I am beginning to see beautiful fat green asparagus in the market and look forward to the white stalks showing up soon. I have written about asparagus here and when I travel in the spring I am always on the lookout for asparagus offerings on restaurant menus, curious to see how chefs treat this delicate vegetable. I have had some pretty spectacular white asparagus dishes in Paris, I wish I was back there right now to sample their asparagus dishes this year. I was there in January for a few weeks, a little early for asparagus. The white asparagus flavour is milder than green and the stalks tend to be more fibrous and require peeling. It also tend to be a fragile specimen and may snap in your hand as you peel it. You may wish to lay the stalks down on your cutting surface and gently peel the bottom half of the stalk from the middle towards the root end using a vegetable peeler. Turn it as you go to peel around the stalk.
The classic sauce for asparagus, green or white, is a delicate hollandaise made with egg yolks, butter and a little lemon. I have made it with other sauces (see with blood oranges here) and because it is so special I tend to serve it as a separate course rather than alongside other foods, to be savoured and appreciated on its own. You can try it for breakfast, steamed and topped with poached egg and hollandaise, a truly special treat.
about 3-5 asparagus stalks per person
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 cup macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
A few chopped macadamia nuts for garnish
Micro green if you have them.
Add 2 cups water to a large skillet and bring to a boil.
When the water is boiling add a large pinch of salt and arrange half of the asparagus spears in one layer in the skillet.
Cook the asparagus in the boiling water until done. Test by inserting a knife into the thick part to see if it is cooked through.
When cooked through remove from the water and set aside. Repeat with the remaining stalks.
Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a separate skillet, add the minced shallot and cook until soft and fragrant. Add the chopped macadamia nuts and cook another couple of minutes to soften them and blend the flavours.
Transfer the warm shallot-macadamia mixture to a food processor, add the chopped parsley, salt and olive oil and process until the mixture resemble the texture of pesto. It will not be completely smooth because of the nuts.
Taste and adjust salt and pepper.
To serve arrange a few asparagus spears per person on individual plates, spoon pesto over and garnish with additional chopped macadamia nuts and a small bunch of micro greens. The asparagus can be served warm or at room temperature. If it has cooled you can drop it back into the boiling water just to heat it through before serving.
Note: for extra garnish I peel a couple of uncooked asparagus spears into ribbons with a vegetable peeler, then drop the ribbons into the boiling water with the asparagus and remove them when they soften. I pile these white ribbons on top of the macadamia pesto as an additional garnish. I saw it served this way in a Paris restaurant near the Garnier Opera (Cafe de Paix) a few years ago. See images of the dish in Paris here.