Thursday, April 28, 2011

The White Gold of Holland

Visit Maastricht’s markets and food stores in the springtime, and you will be confronted with sights like this:

 That’s white asparagus (and you can see some lovely Limburg strawberries in the bottom photo, too), and I’ve mentioned its abundance at the weekly markets. It’s a specialty of the southern regions of the country, and unlike the more familiar green kind it grows underground and is harvested before reaching the surface. It is apparently kind of a big deal in foodie circles, nicknamed “white gold” because of its high market prices (this must refer to prices overseas or in places where it’s not grown in such abundance; here it’s only a bit more expensive than the green kind). I’d never seen white asparagus before arriving here and I was at first reluctant to cook with it: it’s a bit unappetizing-looking, with it’s pale color and fat stems, definitely not as pretty as the green kind. But I tried some local green asparagus last week and it was deliciously fresh and tender (I didn’t even have to peel the stalks, which with asparagus in the States you almost always have to do so they’re not chewy), and so the other day I decided to go for it and get half a kilo each of both white and green.

Well, after having tried the white, I can say that fresh, locally grown and presumably recently picked asparagus is wonderful, but it’s probably not really worth paying extra for the white kind unless you’re into the novelty value. It all tasted pretty much the same to me. I boiled it (a bit too much, I will admit, as it was a little soft; still getting the hang of this whole “cooking” thing) and served it with pasta in a creamy sauce.*

*Made, I’m a bit ashamed to admit, from a powdered mix, several packages of which I found in a kitchen drawer, leftovers from previous tenants. They’re actually pretty tasty, and they are, after all, a Dutch product. Powdered and liquid bases for sauces and soups seem to be popular here, as are bouillon cubes. So you can call it cheating if you want; I’m calling it research.

Asparagus (asperges), both white and green, is all over restaurant menus in Maastricht right now. They are a very seasonal vegetable, only harvested in the spring, and the white ones are a typical food served at Easter. Most often they’re boiled and served with Hollandaise sauce as an appetizer, with the addition of ham or eggs making it a full meal. Todd’s a vegetarian and I’m not a huge fan of eggs (and forget making a Hollandaise sauce, I wouldn’t even know where to start), so we went the pasta. It was quite delicious, especially reheated the next night with a nice hunk of goat cheese melted into the sauce:

(You can get a glimpse of the white pieces in there, though they kind of blend into the pasta. It's not a great pic, but Todd was in the middle of eating when I remembered I wanted to get a shot, and I didn't want to interrupt him a second time to get the perfect picture!)

Tis the season, so get to your nearest market and pick up a bunch of asparagus. Even if it’s not local, it will at least be seasonal and so likely to be almost as tasty as Limburgian white gold!

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