After having lived for several years in the Breisgau region, one of the things I thought I would miss the most when I moved to Weimar, would be my beloved asparagus freshly harvested almost right at the doorsteps. Baden-Württemberg after all is known as Germany’s asparagus capital. A few years after living in Weimar I learnt that several regions in the beautiful state of Thuringia could equally boast of excellent asparagus production thanks to the perfect clay-y soil conditions provided here. As a matter of fact asparagus growing has a long tradition in Thuringia and many trails link major asparagus growing areas together. From April to end of June the fields in these regions come to life as the asparagus season is at its height.
During asparagus season, the average German enjoys the delicate flavor of this tender spring vegetable at least once a day which adds up to a national total of over 70,000 tons per year. With annual production averaging under 60,000 tons, Germany also imports asparagus to meet the continuously high demand for these healthy stalks. The vegetable’s popularity may in part be rooted in its long history as a luxury vegetable. Although the history of asparagus in Germany is sparsely documented legend has it that the plant was introduced to Germany some 2,000 years ago by the Romans, who prized asparagus as a delicacy, an aphrodisiac and even as a contraceptive.
By the 1700s, it was being cultivated in monasteries and courtly gardens in Germany but paintings and drawings show it was grown above ground, which means Germans were eating green asparagus, not white.
I wanted to dig a little deeper and get firsthand experience from the professionals about my favorite vegetable. I was kindly invited to spend an afternoon at the Spargelhof Kutzleben by Frau Friedrichsen the Managing Director. Once I arrived I was whisked away by Ms. Keil, in charge of the asparagus production, directly to the fields where workers from Poland were busy harvesting the white gold. She explained that the asparagus plants are not planted directly into the fields, but are cultivated in small pots filled with soil and are left to grow to 15 cm in the greenhouse. Once they have reached a stable height they are then moved to the fields and planted in rows where they are left for a whole year to grow and strengthen before they are harvested. In the spring of the following year machines then cover the rows of asparagus plants with soil building the soil dams called “hillings” often seen on the fields. Subsequently the dams are covered with thick foil, which act like mini-greenhouses and supplies the little plants with moisture and warmth allowing for the plants to sprout.
Daily, the team at the Spargelhof control the growth and once the white heads of the asparagus begin to poke out of the soil it is time for the harvest. Workers from Poland arrive at the Spargelhof early April and are mainly responsible for the harvesting till the end of the season, which usually is around the end of June. Each stalk is harvested from hand where a razor sharp knife is slipped underneath the soil and the spears are cut at ground level. Once out of the soil the hole is then covered back with soil so that the next stalk can grow. From now on it is a race against time to make sure the quality of the spears is kept to its best. Directly from the fields the boxes of asparagus are quickly transported to the Spargelhof, where they are sorted, cleaned and chilled.
“It is a question of quality!” says Ms. Friendrichsen once I am back at the Spargelhof to see what becomes of the freshly harvested asparagus
"Class one asparagus is absolutely beautifully white with perfectly straight spears," she pulls open a box of fresh asparagus being washed and sorted in the warehouse. "The tips have to be tightly closed - another important criterion - and the cut should have a moist freshly-cut surface."
The asparagus are cut into the required length – the perfect asparagus according to the retailers is 22cm long and 16cm thick. In the warehouse the asparagus is then sorted into the different classes and then chilled down to 1° C in the cold stores, stopping the growing process of the asparagus and keeping it fresh until it arrives at the stores and markets across the region.
The Spargelhof is equipped with modern state-of-the-art computerized machines and the large processing halls provide for efficient and quick processing of the asparagus all the way to the final packing and delivery.
In the middle of asparagus season starts the strawberry season “Just 2 more weeks and then they are ripe” Ms. Keil told me as we made a quick stop at the strawberry fields. I spotted several red jewels peeking from the below the vibrant green leaves of the strawberry plants. “Then more workers arrive to the hof to help us harvest these beauties!” she said proudly.
Of course the entire tour had my stomach growling and my mouth watering. I could hardly wait to try some of the asparagus delicacies that are prepared at the Spargelhof’s own kitchen in the Spargelzelt. Frau Fischer, the restaurant manager, took over my culinary journey at the Spargelzelt bringing out dish upon dish of luxurious asparagus delicacies.
We started with a wonderful and piquant asparagus coconut and chili soup with the most wonderful exotic and explosive flavor pairings I have had. Then came tender and succulent roast beef slices served with sautéed asparagus and a ramp hollandaise sauce, which was followed by the classic crispy schnitzel and steamed asparagus served with a traditional hollandaise and a herby breadcrumb butter sauce with chopped eggs – unusual but totally good enough to dive into! Frau Fischer told me that normally she would offer me their asparagus ice cream but they did not have it on the menu that day. It had me very intrigued – so much so that I am planning to come back for it soon!
Instead I was treated to an elderflower quark mousse served on a bed of red rhubarb compote. The rhubarb is new to the Spargelhof – the team just started growing it this year.
My entire afternoon at the Spargelhof was simply fantastic! Not only was I able to get close to the asparagus harvest but thanks to the lovely ladies, Ms. Friedrichsen, Ms. Keil and Ms. Fisher I was provided with plenty of firsthand information that I will always look at this King of vegetable under a different light!
Green or white? There is little difference between white and green asparagus except in the way the spears are harvested. To obtain the white color the plant’s light intake is limited as they are buried under the mounds of soil. Their sunlight intake is blocked and therefore chlorophyll production is prevented, keeping them pure white.
If you are interested in learning a bit more about asparagus and then sitting down to an exquisite well-earned asparagus menu at the Spargelhof, you can easily book tours and a table at the Spargelzelt.
The precious few months of asparagus season are often my most cherished ones. I adore these luxurious vegetables – green or white I will eat them all. I find them extremely versatile and use them daily in salads, soups and pair them with meat, poultry and fish or just on their own with melted ghee and a dollop of lemon quark.
My recipe for you today pairs both the fresh red jewels of strawberries bursting with juicy sweetness and lovely white asparagus. I serve this slightly warm salad with a baked salmon spiced with pink peppercorn and vanilla. All the incredible flavors of star anise, vanilla, coriander, juniper berries come together in this exquisite salad to give a wonderful aromatic dish. I top it all off are quail eggs sunny-side up. Summertime!
Recipe: White Asparagus and Strawberry Salad with Vanilla Kissed Salmon SteaksMeeta K. Wolff
IngredientsFor the baked salmon
- 4 Salmon steaks
- 1 lime, juice and zest
- 2 tablespoons red/pink peppercorns
- 2 vanilla beans
- 1 star anise
- ½ tablespoon coriander seeds
- ½ tablespoon juniper berries
- Coarse Fleur de sel
- 4 pieces of parchment paper that are large enough to wrap the salmon in
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
Asparagus and strawberry salad
- 1 kg white asparagus, peeled and blanched in water for 5 minutes (once again if your asparagus is thicker this may take a few minutes longer)
- 250g fresh strawberries, sliced
- 100g radishes, sliced
- Radish sprouts
- 1 bunch Dill
- ½ tablespoon juniper berries
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon raw honey
- 8 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 tablespoons white Aceto balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon pumpkin seed oil
- Fleur de sel and pepper to taste
- 8 quail eggs
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Using a mortar and pestle grind together the peppercorns, coriander seeds, juniper berries and star anise. I like my mixture coarser but you can vary the degree of coarseness as to your own liking. Cut open the vanilla beans and scrape out the seeds. Add this and the lime zest to the spice mixture and give a few more grinds from the pestle to mix it in well. Cut each of the empty bean in half and set aside.
- Place each salmon steak on a piece of parchment paper and drizzle each steak with some of the lime juice, then brush generously with some olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, and then rub with the peppercorn-vanilla spice mixture. Place half of the vanilla bean on top of each steak, then wrap each in a parcel making sure it is nicely covered.
- Transfer the parcels to a baking tray and bake in the oven for approx 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness of the steaks (this can take up to 20 minutes if your steaks are thick).
- For the salad start by making the vinaigrette for the salad. Grind the juniper berries in a spice grinder or using a mortar and pestle. In a clean jar which has a tight lid add the mustard, honey, olive and pumpkin seed oil, vinegar and the ground juniper berries and finally salt and pepper to taste. Close the jar with the lid tightly and give it a good shake – until the vinaigrette has thickened. Set aside while you prepare the salad.
- Place the warm asparagus on a large platter, distributing the strawberry and radish slices over the asparagus. Quickly but gently, fry the quail eggs.
- Drizzle the vinaigrette over the salad, sprinkle the radish sprouts and dill then place the eggs over the top and serve this with the salmon steaks.
This is a fantastic dish for those warm summer nights – as all the elements do not need to be hot off the heat but can be served warm. The salmon parcels can also be placed on the barbecue but then make sure your parcels are made of aluminum foil and not out of paper! A chilled glass of white wine and prosecco and you are off to impress your guests with this light but refined meal. Hope you enjoy it!
You might enjoy these asparagus and strawberry dishes:
- Simone’s Warm asparagus salad with bacon, egg and hazelnuts
- Jeanne’s Rhubarb strawberry and ginger tarts
- Ren’s British Asparagus, spinach, beetroot and halloumi salad
- Sarah’s strawberry muffins with rose icing
- Deeba’s Strawberry Kiwi Fruit Salad
- Anu’s Grilled Paneer Cheese With Roasted Artichoke, Asparagus & Bell pepper Salad & Cherry Tomato Fondue
September 2015: Sintra, Portugal Food Photography and Styling Workshop
Registrations have started and we already have participants registered from San Francisco, the UK, Germany and Portugal. This two day workshop takes place in the stunning and tranquil town of Sintra - 30-minutes from Lisbon. You will learn all the aspects of food photography to help you hone your skills and find your way through the jungle of food styling. You will also learn how to harness natural light for perfect images, shoot in low-light and post-process efficiently.
Furthermore, we will take you on a magical tour of a stunning Sintra landmark and treat you to a picnic in the park. With expert tuition, hands-on exercises and assignments this workshop offers an intensive yet fun-filled experience.
Date: 11th - 12th September 2015
Details, registrations and preliminary programme here.
You might enjoy these summertime salads from What’s for lunch, honey?
|Thai inspired Zucchini Mango Salad||Green Asparagus Chicken Cesar Salad with Honey Pecan Nuts||Minty Peach and Watermelon Salad with Feta Cheese|
All photographs and written content on What's For Lunch, Honey? © 2006-2015 Meeta Khurana Wolff unless otherwise indicated. | All rights reserved | Please Ask First