Hard work builds character, if not in adolescents, than at least in asparagus. White asparagus, prized all over Europe for its delicate flavor and tenderness, is also one of the most labor-intensive crops. Genetically indistinguishable from the green variety, white asparagus is grown without any exposure to sunlight, so the green-tinting chlorophyll never has the chance to develop. Traditionally, this has meant farmers carefully mound soil around each individual spear as it grows, a task that must be done daily to keep the emerging tips from coloring. Etiolation is the fancy word for it (ee·tee·o·lay·shun).
Today, most growers have engineered an easier way of keeping the spears in the dark: The asparagus are simply grown under a black cover that keeps the light from getting in. Whether or not this affects the flavor is up for debate, but one thing is certain: White asparagus is only available for about 10 weeks out of the year, between April and June, so now’s your chance.
White Asparagus Salad with Parmesan Serves 2 1 bunch white asparagus 1 T. vinegar (whatever kind you fancy) 1 clove garlic, minced 1 small shallot, minced 1 sprig fresh tarragon, chopped 3 T. olive oil Salt and pepper to taste 3 cups mixed spring greens Parmesan
Rinse asparagus, trim or snap off the base, and using a vegetable peeler, peel all the skin off of each spear. Place asparagus in a large, shallow pan, sprinkle with salt, and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and simmer gently until just tender, about 7-10 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water to stop cooking. Bring asparagus to room temperature. Whisk together vinegar, garlic, shallot, and tarragon in a small bowl, then drizzle in olive oil while whisking to emulsify. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide greens between two plates. Toss asparagus in half the dressing, place over greens, and drizzle with as much remaining dressing as desired. Shave parmesan over salad.