Veronika, der Lenz ist da,
Die Mädchen singen tralala.
Die ganze Welt ist wie verhext,
Veronika, der Spargel wächst!
Veronika, spring is here,
The girls are singing tra-la-la,
It’s as if the whole world is bewitched,
Veronika, the asparagus is growing!
Its rapid rate of growth and its greenness make asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) a suitable symbol for spring. According to the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board, spears can grow up to 10 inches (25.4 cm) in 24 hours under ideal conditions. Presumably these conditions are similar to those in the eastern Mediterranean, where it originated. Not only does it grow quickly, but it also cooks up fast. The Romans, great fans of asparagus, appreciated this quality and have left us the Latin idiom velocius quam asparagi coquantur, quicker than asparagus can be cooked.
Today asparagus is also enjoyed north of the Alps. Germany is home to both the European Asparagus Museum in Schrobenhausen and the badische Spargelstraße, the Baden Asparagus Route, which runs through Schwetzingen, the self-proclaimed asparagus capital of the world, and Bruchsal, the location of the largest asparagus market in Europe. The asparagus celebrated here is predominantly white, not green.
What is the difference between green and white asparagus? Etiolation, or light deprivation. To produce white asparagus, shoots are covered with earth as they grow in order to prevent sunlight from triggering the production of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll makes plants green and is necessary for photosynthesis, the process by which a plant harnesses the energy from sunlight to transform carbon dioxide into food. So to produce white asparagus, it is necessary to interfere with a fundamental life process of a plant.
I prefer that the asparagus I eat be green. On a purely aesthetic level, there is something unearthly about the thick white spears I see at the market; they are somehow devoid of personality, raw material that I imagine can only be boiled into a tasteless mush.
Note: No chlorophyll was harmed in the making of the following soup.
Green velvet soup
In French cuisine, a velouté is a soup thickened with roux, a mixture of butter and flour. Velouté comes from the French word for velvet, velours. This soup showcases the umami taste of asparagus touched by the warmth of mace. I had intended to add nutmeg (Muskat), but only after I got back from the store did I notice I had bought mace (Muskatblüte) by accident. I was in luck – mace has a similar but more subtle flavor than nutmeg that works well here.
250 g green asparagus (about 10 spears)
750 ml (3 cups) water
2 Tbs butter (or olive oil, for a vegan version)
2 small scallions or shallots
3 Tbs flour
¼ ts mace
Cut off the tough ends of the asparagus, peeling the spears if necessary. Cook the spears upright in boiling water with ½ ts salt for 10 minutes (the tips should not be submerged).
Reserve the green cooking liquid (asparagus stock). Cut the asparagus into 3-5 cm pieces (1-2 inches).
In a pot, melt the butter. Add the scallions and sauté for a few minutes until translucent. Mix in the flour so it coats the scallions. After the mixture browns, add the asparagus stock, stirring well so there are no clumps.
Simmer for 5 minutes. Add the mace. Simmer 5 minutes more, then add the pieces of asparagus. Simmer 5 minutes more. Add salt and pepper to taste, then puree with an immersion blender or in a food processor.
Serve with goat cheese crumbled on top.