With this being its month to shine, the Five Star Makeover Cooking Group was challenged to create a dish using white asparagus as our theme ingredient.
Germans are said to have been the first to introduce the production of white asparagus or “spargel,” made by depriving the spears from sunlight so that they cannot produce chlorophyll.
Natasha of the blog 5 Star Foodie, who co-hosts these monthly makeover events, prefaced April’s star ingredient with an interesting tidbit about how the Germans celebrate the brief season, explaining how restaurants in the country will often offer special “Spargel Karte” menus that showcase the white spears in all their glory.
Take a look at what’s on my Spargel Karte menu:
|White asparagus custard topped with roasted shallots and pancetta crisp, served beside a baby spinach salad in creamy white balsamic vinaigrette|
The minute I found out that this month’s star ingredient was white asparagus, my wheels had already started turning with thoughts of what I wanted to do. Oh sure, I had tons of ideas, but I didn’t have a clue on where I was going to find the stuff! That’s kind of like a major factor…
I underestimated the rarity of white asparagus, calling and visiting every store around with no luck. With the equivalent of mere minutes to the finish line—right about the time I started to consider where I might be able to get some in a jar—I finally found them.
Like most things you can’t find, it was in the last place I looked. It was not at any chain supermarket or popular specialty store, it was just some random mom and pop-type gourmet fruit and vegetable store right next door to one of the big names.
Anyway, I was so happy to finally have some beautiful fresh white asparagus on my hands, that I made my dish as soon as I got home.
The custard turned out nice and light and the flavor of the asparagus really came through. Together with the custard, the smokey crunch of the pancetta crisp, sweet roasted shallots and tangy white balsamic-dressed spinach all made for an excellent lunch. A few blanched spears on the side to showcase the white asparagus at its purest, and it was complete!
White Asparagus Custard
Topped with roasted shallots and pancetta crisp, served beside a baby spinach salad in creamy white balsamic vinaigrette.
Yield: 6-7 servings in small-medium sized ramekins
- 3 eggs
- 8 white asparagus spears + extra for garnish (optional)
- 12 ounces heavy cream + 2-4 ounces extra, heated for pureeing
- Salt for seasoning
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
• To prep asparagus for blanching, lightly peel each spear with a vegetable peeler, and cut off the thick bottoms. Bring a pot of water to a boil and lightly salt the water. Also, prepare an ice filled water bowl for shocking.
• Add the asparagus to the boiling water and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. When done, shock in the ice water to stop the cooking process. After removing the cooled asparagus from the ice water; coarsely chop 8 spears and add to a food processor. Set the rest aside for garnish (if using).
• Pulse the white asparagus in food processor while slowly adding the hot heavy cream until you have a thick puree. In a medium-large bowl, whisk together the puree with eggs, 12 ounces of heavy cream, and salt. Pour the mixture into ramekins, then place the ramekins in a pan filled with ½ inch of water. Bake until custard is set, about 45 minutes.
• Allow the custard to completely cool before removing from ramekins. The custard should easily come loose after running a knife around the edge.
• Pancetta crisps: Place 6-7 thin slices of pancetta on a sheet tray and bake in a 350 degree oven until crisp, 15-20 minutes.
• Roasted shallots: peel and quarter 2-4 shallots (depending on size), and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper; lay out on a sheet tray and roast in 450 degree oven until soft and lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Chop and toss with a little bit of the white balsamic vinaigrette before serving on top of the custard.
• Creamy white balsamic vinaigrette: In a medium sized bowl, mix 6 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar with 1 clove of minced garlic, 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard, and ¼ teaspoon of honey. Slowly whisk in about ¼ of regular olive oil until dressing becomes thick and creamy; season with salt and pepper. Toss with baby spinach or similar green to lightly coat.