We're in the midst of a sandstorm from the Sahara. The southern winds on which the sand is hitching a ride have brought very warm, humid weather--it's in the upper 80s during the day, very warm for here, although the nights are cool enough to use a feather comforter. Yesterday I mistook the sand for a haze and hoped we might have rain that would bring cooler weather, but instead I just have a fine layer of sand all over the inside of my apartment because I didn’t close the windows. I would have preferred a thunder storm, but I must be careful what I am wishing for.
The local strawberries are in the greengrocers here. I bought a box yesterday and they are delicious--juicy, sweet and tender. I've had asparagus, both white and green, each day since I've been back. The white asparagus is a regional specialty. Much of it is grown just north of Munich around Schrobenhausen, in large fields. Dirt is mounded up around each spear as it grows to keep the sun’s rays from activating the chlorophyll, which turns asparagus green.
Preparing white asparagus is not complicated, but it requires a different approach than the green asparagus. The key to easy peeling is the asparagus peeler, an ingenious device that resembles big tweezers with a vegetable peeler blade inserted in each arm. No need to put it in the back of the drawer at the end of asparagus season either: it works well on carrots or any other similarly shaped vegetable.
I select the fattest spears I can find, shave off only a thin slice from the base of the stalk, then grasp it by the tip, squeeze the peeler together gently and run it down the length of the stalk to peel the skin. Repeat three or four times until all the skin is removed.
Peeling white asparagus seems counter-intuitive—why should something so tender, that never felt the sun’s rays, have to be peeled? Take my word for it, it does. Otherwise, you will have a bitter-flavored, stringy stalk and wonder why people rave and pay premium prices (about $8 per pound) for it. Peeling is also the reason you go for the fatter stalks. The thinner spears are more work, and by the time you are finished peeling, not much remains to eat.
During Spargelzeit (asparagus season), this delicacy is featured as a main dish in local restaurants. A serving, somewhere between a half pound and a pound, is presented on a platter, accompanied by either Hollandaise sauce or browned butter and steamed new potatoes. Schnittlauch (chopped chives) are scattered over the top and there you are, with a platter full of the colors of spring: the pale, creamy white asparagus and potatoes, lemony yellow sauce, and a confetti sprinkling of green chives. If you have worked up an appetite, you can order a small Schnitzel or Spargelschinken (a thinly sliced ham), but the asparagus is the central attraction of the meal. A glass of Weizen (wheat beer) or a Riesling keeps any thirst at bay.