When asparagus hits the shelves, you know Spring has arrived. Asparagus has a short season, April-June (Northern Hemisphere) or September-November (Southern Hemisphere).

In Austria, asparagus is considered King of the vegetables, partly due to its short season and for its delicacy. In fact, Austria’s imperial family were supplied asparagus and other crops from Marchfeld, a fertile plain east of Vienna (a 30-minute drive away) between the rivers Danube and March. Marchfeld asparagus (known as Spargel in German) grows easily in the perfect climatic conditions, receiving 2,200 hours of sunshine per year with the added bonus of fertile sandy soil. It ranks 8th in the top 10 asparagus regions, shared with Germany, Italy and Spain. For this reason, it is a protected brand in the EU for its designation of origin.

I am lucky to be living in Vienna where I can enjoy fresh Marchfeld asparagus from one of the 884 Marchfeld farms within 24 hours of harvesting, after being carefully picked by hand, chilled, graded and sent to the markets the same day. There are two main varieties grown: white and green. White is the most popular and highly sought after in Germany and Austria. Green asparagus is easier to prepare and is less expensive out of the two.

Before I came to Austria, I had no idea how to prepare or serve asparagus, so for those of you who are in the dark about this, here are some tips:

How to store asparagus:

White asparagus needs to be wrapped in a damp cloth in the refrigerator no longer than 5 days. Green asparagus needs to be kept dry in the refrigerator’s vegetable drawer.

 How to cook asparagus:

WHITE ASPARAGUS:

  • Soak the asparagus in cold water with a few drops of lemon for ½ – 1 hour beforehand. This makes peeling easier.
  • Using a sharp vegetable/potato peeler, peel the full length of the spear from bottom to top. This removes the tough exterior, exposing the tender part.
  • Trim the ends off each spear.
  • Tie the asparagus in bundles with kitchen string.
  • Fill a deep pot with salted water, bring to the boil and add 1 teaspoon of sugar. Lower the heat and add the asparagus to the pot, upright* if deep enough, otherwise lying down. Make sure the bundled is covered. *Traditionally asparagus is cooked upright in a tall asparagus pot so the tips don’t overcook.
  • Simmer for 20 minutes. This method of cooking asparagus is the French method and guarantees tender, but not limp asparagus. White asparagus is tougher. Make sure to test one for tenderness before removing it to cool down.
  • Rinse under cold running water and allow to drain.
  • Serve warm or cold.

GREEN ASPARAGUS: (Please note these cooking tips are for the medium to large green asparagus and not the very thin green asparagus).

  • Wash the asparagus and dry them thoroughly.
  • Using a sharp vegetable/potato peeler, peel only the lower third part of the spear.
  • Remove the tough ends by simply bending the spear with both hands until it snaps naturally at the tender point. Keep the ends for soups or stir-fries.
  • Fill a deep pot with salted water, bring to the boil and add 1 teaspoon of sugar. Lower the heat and add the asparagus to the pot, upright if deep enough, otherwise lying down. Make sure the bundled is covered.
  • Simmer for 5-8 minutes.
  • Rinse under cold running water and allow to drain.
  • Serve warm or cold.

HOW TO SERVE ASPARAGUS:

 The dream combo is white wine and steamed asparagus with Hollandaise sauce! Good wines to pair with asparagus are:

  • Grüner Veltliner – I like to make a special mention about this locally grown white wine that has dry, peppery tones and a light body. As only 20% of this wine’s production is exported, not many people outside know about this amazing Austrian wine from the Wachau region. If you see it at your local wine store, buy it straight away. You won’t be disappointed!
  • Pinot Gris
  • Chardonnay
  • Sauvignon Blanc

WARM DISHES, methods of cooking include blanching, grilling, steaming, roasting and sautéing in a number of dishes:

  • Risottos and pasta
  • Omelettes, frittatas, Spanish Tortillas
  • Wrapped in crepes and topped with cheese sauce or Hollandaise sauce
  • Steamed and served with a softly boiled egg
  • Marinated and grilled or barbecued
  • Stir-fried on its own with garlic and salt
  • Soup

COLD DISHES:

  • Blanched and wrapped in prosciutto
  • Blanched and served with dips
  • Grated raw and added to salads

NUTRITIONAL BENEFITS OF ASPARAGUS:

  • Extremely low in calories. Per 100g of asparagus has only 15 calories!
  • High in fibre
  • Good sources of vitamin A, B, C & K
  • High in folate (vitamin B9)
  • Helps lower blood pressure due to high levels of potassium

Gluten-Free Asparagus Tart

Ingredients:

For the savoury tart pastry:

  • 150g store-bought or homemade gluten-free plain flour
  • 50g almond meal or ground unpeeled almonds
  • ½ teaspoon xanthan gum or 1 teaspoon psyllium husk powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon white pepper
  • 100g butter, chilled and cubed
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons herb cream cheese (pick any flavour combination of your choice)
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • A few tablespoons of ice-cold water

For the filling:

  • 10-12 green asparagus spears
  • 6-8 white asparagus spears
  • 3 eggs, beaten well
  • 150ml pouring cooking cream
  • 100ml milk
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chives, snipped into small pieces
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg powder
  • ½ teaspoon white pepper
  • 100g goats’ cheese, broken into crumbled pieces or 100g cheddar cheese, grated
  • ½ teaspoon salt, for sprinkling on the tart

EQUIPMENT NEEDED:

  • A 30cm by 20cm loose-based tart tin or a standard 25cm-round pie dish
  • A sharp vegetable/potato peeler
  • A deep medium size pot

Step-by-Step Instructions

1. Start preparing the pastry by mixing the plain flour, almond meal, xanthan gum, white pepper and salt together in a medium bowl.

2. Rub the butter with the flour mixture using your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs.

3. Using a wooden spoon, add the egg yolk, cream cheese and milk, mixing well.

4. Bring the dough together into a ball. If it feels too dry, add one tablespoon at a time of ice-cold water until it comes together.

5. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

6. At this stage, prepare the asparagus. If using white asparagus, peel the woody part of the spear. Trim the ends off.

7. Green asparagus does not need to be peeled. Only the ends need to be trimmed by slightly bending the asparagus until it snaps apart at the area where it starts to be tough.

8. Bring a deep pot of water to a boil.

9. Tie up the white asparagus with some kitchen string and plunge them in boiling water. Bring the water down to a simmer and allow to cook for 20 minutes.

10. Tie up the green asparagus and plunge them for 5 minutes.

11. Rinse both types of asparagus under cold water and allow them to drain.

12. Lightly brush a tart tin measuring 30cm by 20cm with some butter.

13. Roll out the dough between 2 sheets of baking paper. Sprinkle some flour on the dough if it feels too sticky.

14. Once the dough has been rolled out to a rectangular shape of approximately 35cm by 25cm, place it carefully on the greased tart tin. Using your fingers, gently press the dough into the sides and repair any holes or tears that may have occurred while transferring the dough to the tin. This will more than likely occur, as the gluten-free tart pastry is very delicate. Trim away any excess pastry with a knife.

15. Chill the pastry for 15 minutes uncovered.

16. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.

17. Lay some baking paper on the pastry and place some weights or dried beans. This is the first step of blind baking which ensures the pastry is cooked and remains unraised before adding the filling.

18. Bake for 15 minutes.

19. Remove the baking paper and weights or beans. Prick the base with a fork to prevent the pastry from rising while baking. Bake for a further 10 minutes.

20. At this stage, prepare the filling by mixing the eggs, cream, milk, chives and seasoning together in a medium bowl.

21. If using cheddar cheese instead of goats’ cheese, add this now and gently mix it together.

22. Turn the oven down to 150°C/300°C.

23. Fill the tart shell with the egg mixture and carefully arrange the asparagus on top.

24. If using the goats’ cheese, crumble this along the edges of the tart. Sprinkle some salt on the asparagus.

25. Bake for 40-45 minutes. Slightly shake the tart tin, if the egg mixture does not move, the tart is ready. If you like the tart to be more golden, flash it under the grill/broiler for 5 minutes to get a nice crust.

26. Allow to cool down completely before either serving it or storing it in the fridge for later. Cover with plastic film.

  • Makes 8 portions
  • Serve warm or cold with a garden salad and some mustard
  • Reheats well for 10 minutes at 180°C/350°F
  • Keeps for 3 days in the fridge
  • Not suitable for freezing

by | Apr 22, 2021 | Baking, Meals, Vegetarian | 0 comments

Asparagus drawing by:

<a href=”https://www.vectorstock.com/royalty-free-vector/closeup-fresh-green-and-white-asparagus-raw-vector-5222863″>Vector image by VectorStock / Free-Graphics</a>