Quick and healthy: asparagus with potatoes and ham

Here in Central Europe May is the month of asparagus and strawberries and rhubarb! In France they tend to eat more of the green kind that is only peeled at the bottom end. Here in Germany both kinds are sold, but the fat, white stalks are the most common, from Pörnbach, Abensberg or Schrobenhausen, although they are also sent up from Greece. The first ones arrive in April and the last harvest is traditionally towards the 24th June, Johannistag (St. John’s).

One kilogram usually costs about €12. I’d suggest buying about 5-6 stalks per person. I use a special peeler (cf. photo) and peel first the ends, then the top end while staying away from the shoot which doesn’t necessitate anything. The yellowish in-between layer must also be peeled away. Then the bottom end is cut off, a little more if the end is tough.

My asparagus are cooked in a large skillet, but professionals use special cylindrical pots so the bottom is cooked longer than the bud. I cook mine for approximately 10-11 minutes in salted water, some people add in a bit of sugar, some like them more al dente and cook them a minute less.

Meanwhile wash some potatoes with flaky skin and cooked them in salt water for about 20 minutes depending on their size. I poke them after 18 minutes or so to check the degree of softness.

You can make your own sauce hollandaise out of butter, shallots, egg yolks, vinegar, salt & pepper, whisked creamy in a bain-marie. Or you simply buy a packet of sauce hollandaise, also as fat-reduced, and heat it along with the asparagus, adding a splash of lemon.

Delicious accompaniments are cooked honey, smoked, lemon-pepper or serrano ham, also small veal scallops or beef tournedos.

Astounding Asparagus – quick + healthy

“Der Spargel, der wächst hoid noa so guat” – said the farmer’s wife just two days ago. (“Our asparagus is still growing so well” from the Bavarian dialect Oberbayrisch, i.e. almost a language of its own). Our best asparagus comes from the best soils called “Gauboden”, especially from the areas Pörnbach, Schrobenhausen, Abensberg, etc. to the north and east of Munich. True, meanwhile I can understand the people if I am thoroughly awake and concentrated, but I shall never be able to pronounce the phrases the way I ought, guttural and and with a certain inflection entirely strange to my U.S.-attuned-tongue.

Ah yes, asparagus! The season – which also applies to home-grown strawberries, so make sure to some as topping on a simple shortcake or make your own strawberry limes (strawberries crushed with sugar, lemon and vodka)   –  is over by June 24th, aka St. John’s Day or summer solstice, so almost everybody gorges themselves on them and then pauses till next season.

Delicious when eaten fresh, full of fibre and vitamins and Bavarian warmth (pun), you can peel them yourself or buy them ready to cook. Lots of good cooks own a special pot to keep them upright and just steam the tips a bit, since they are seasonal and my kitchen tiny, a skillet will also do the trick with the water only covering the stems and a teaspoon of salt. Choose only fresh stalks (check the cut end, must be moist and not mouldy) and of equal thickness. Depending on size, approximately 8 to 11 minutes suffice, undercooked asparagus are hard or squishy when overcooked, a bit like pasta. You can stick in a fork to test.

Leftover cold  asparagus make a tasty salad paired with tomatoes, chopped spring onions and/or chives, Italian olive oil, French white wine vinegar, a dash of sugar, salt and pepper to taste.

Great accompaniments are tiny gem potatoes, cooked ham (such as Butterschinken, lemon pepper ham, also Parma and Bayonne), also delicate sausages or veal scallopini,  fresh crunchy French bread, butter sauce with lemon or a real French-style sauce hollandaise with lemon. If I am in a hurry, I buy one from Thomy’s or in deli shops. Then again, nothing beats the real thing!

A crisp white wine (Franconia and Baden are the best in Germany or France) helps to wash it down with an ahhhh! Enjoy it all while the season lasts!