April is the month for asparagus. They stick out their pretty little heads, as if to see that spring is really here and then they come out in force, taking over market stalls, supermarket shelves, restaurant tables and domestic kitchens. For a precious few weeks they even dominate the conversation in big parts of Europe. I just love the delicate flavor of a superb white asparagus, slightly nutty and bitter with a sweet aftertaste. Forged in darkness, protected from the sun, they have an iridescent pale ivory color with hints of pink and violet. I can’t think of a prettier hue, to me they are like porcelain magic wands found under a rainbow, somewhere out there.
Which brings me to the delightful Monsieur & Madame Benard who grow some of the best white asparagus (asperges des Sables des Landes) I’ve ever had. Yesterday morning I was lucky enough to spend some time on their asparagus farm, learning all about asparagus growing and even more importantly, bringing home a basketful. The Benard’s are very lively people, fun to be around and full of pride for their earthy produce and the possibilities they bring to the kitchen. The asparagus looked so inviting laid out on the table, some of them so fine, so delicate, others more robust but more flavorful. We talked about cooking and countless recipes. Other customers pitched in with their ideas, a local doctor with very thick hair said that his favorite was green asparagus with morilles mushrooms, a lady and her husband preferred big white ones with Hollandaise sauce. In the end Astrid (Mme Benard) and I decided on three recipes. My favorite with poached egg and vinaigrette, her favorite wrapped in local smoked trout from Aquitaine and a classic gratin that I thought might please my mother-in-law who has just come to stay with us. Don’t we all want to please our mothers-in-law.
Asparagus really is a regal vegetable (the privilege of kings and their court in days gone by), growing it requires a lot of work and it is always picked by hand. Watching Astrid and her team carefully going over the fields, excavating the asparagus one by one from the sand was very informative and the strenuous efforts behind each and every asparagus make me appreciate it even more. Which is why no part of it should be wasted. As I was leaving Astrid reminded me to use the end bits for a soup. Making that soup is a lovely way to feel thrifty and luxurious at the same time.
I addition to their asparagus endeavours the Benard’s have just started growing apple trees, eight varieties no less. In a fortnight they will be in bloom and in the fall they’ve invited me for the harvest so well be seeing more of them this year.
Merci Astrid! Quel plaisir gourmand!
Asparagus with vinaigrette & poached egg (serves 4)
For the vinaigrette:
5 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp mustard
1-2 garlic cloves, ground
1 & 1/2 tsp walnut vinegar (alternatively, you can use wine vinegar)
Salt & pepper – for seasoning
Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl. Stir until the vinaigrette is smooth.
For the poached eggs:
1 tbsp white vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
In a shallow pan of boiling water, add 2 tsp of vinegar. Prepare your eggs by breaking them into little cups/pots so it’s easier to pour into the boiling water. When the water is boiling, pour in the eggs in different areas (maximum four at a time – or the water temperature will get cooler). Leave them alone, cover with a lid for 3 minutes, then check if they need a bit of ‘pushing and shoving’ to make their form rounder. You can use a large slotted spoon for this. Depending on how well you like your eggs cooked, 3 minutes should complete the task. When ready spoon each egg at a time onto a plate. Set aside.
For the asparagus:
A bunch of asparagus, depending on size count 4-6 asparagus per person.
A handful of chives (chopped finely)
Wash the asparagus under cool running water and trim away the bottom 1/3 of the stalk. With a vegetable peeler, peel off the rough part (leave the tip intact).
Fill a medium to large saucepan with water, about half way to the top. Add salt and bring to a boil. Add the asparagus and reduce heat slightly – cook for 10 minutes, or until crisp and tender, depending on thickness of asparagus. Drain and place on a serving plate. Place poached egg on top, drizzle with vinaigrette and sprinkle with chives.
Gratin of asparagus with cheese béchamel
1 large bunch of fresh asparagus, approx 500-600 g/ 1 -1&1/2 pounds
For the béchamel sauce.
40 g/ 3 tbsp butter
40 g/ 1/3 cup plain flour
350 ml/ 1 & 1/2 cup milk
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
80 g/ 3/4 cup grated Comté cheese (or any of your favourite hard cheese)
80 g/ 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
A small handful of fresh breadcrumbs (one slice of bread will do)
Preheat oven 210°C/ 410F
For the béchamel sauce:
In a saucepan, on a medium heat, melt butter and add flour. Whisk until smooth and gradually add milk whisking away. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir until sauce thickens. Off the heat, add grated Comté, parmesan cheese and black pepper, mix well until melted. Set aside.
Wash the asparagus under cool running water and trim away the bottom 1/3 of the stalk. With a vegetable peeler, peel off the rough part (leave the tip intact).
Fill a medium to large saucepan with water, about half way to the top. Add salt and bring to a boil. Add the asparagus and reduce heat slightly – cook for 10 minutes, or until crisp and tender, depending on thickness of asparagus. Drain and place on a buttered oven-proof dish. Pour béchamel sauce over asparagus, drizzle with breadcrumbs. Cook in a preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until golden. You can place dish under the broiler for a couple of minutes towards the end if you prefer (it will brown faster).
Trout & asparagus rolls (Mme Benard’s favorite recipe – for 4 small rolls)
4 slices of smoked trout, about the size of a palm (alternatively, you can use smoked salmon)
8-10 fine asparagus
Black pepper, for seasoning
Fresh chives, chopped finely
Preheat oven 210°C/ 410F
Wash the asparagus under cool running water and trim away the bottom 1/3 of the stalk. As the asparagus should be quite fine, you don’t need to peel off any hard skin.
Fill a medium to large saucepan with water, about half way to the top. Bring to a boil (do not add salt as the smoked trout is very salty). Add the asparagus and reduce heat slightly – cook for 4 minutes, or until crisp and tender.
Divide/cut asparagus into 3 equally sized pieces. Place three to four pieces diagonally on each slice of smoked trout and roll tightly. Sprinkle with Comté cheese and cook in a preheated oven, on a high rack, for 10 minutes until cheese has melted and slightly golden. Sprinkle with black pepper and finely chopped chives.
Asparagus soup (serves 4)
400 g/ approx 1 pound asparagus (You can also use Mme Benard’s tip and use leftover peeled coarse ends – if the end result is a bit stringy, just pass the soup through a sieve).
2 small potatoes, peeled
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 litre/ 1 quart vegetable or chicken stock
120 ml/ ½ cup crème fraîche (or sour cream or heavy cream)
Salt & pepper
Chop the asparagus coarsely, keep the tips and set aside. In a pot, add 2 tbsp of olive oil, fry the potatoes and onion for two minutes, add the chopped asparagus (not the tips), stock, salt and pepper, bring to a soft boil and simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes, until all the vegetables are tender. Towards the end, add the asparagus tips for 4 minutes and remove them – set aside. Transfer soup to a blender and blitz briefly until soup is smooth. Add crème fraîche, reserved asparagus tips, stir and serve immediately. Sprinkle with finely chopped chives.
63 thoughts on “All about Asparagus”
Thank you Mimi! This is post is exactly what I needed to take advantage of all those wonderful asparagus popping up. 🙂
As usual, absolutely gorgeous! I just started following your blog and love it. I have shared several of your recipes with friends and family.
The plate in the asparagus and vinegarette with poached egg recipe, is lovely. Where can such a plate be found?
Thank you Crystal! The best bet would be to look in a brocante/antique/flea market, where you can find lovely plates for specific usage. Good luck! Mimix
I have never had white asparagus! Your recipes look so delicious, I might have to go and find some. 🙂
Wonderful pictures, i like asparagus and the lovly plate 🙂
I don’t think I have seen a more beautiful and picturesque post on white asparagus! Just stunning visually and can’t wait for the London stock to be ready.
Love this post. I adore asparagus and will definitely try these recipes. Love the poached egg vinaigrette. Very French, no?
Particularly that you have met and seen M and Mme Benard’s farm… I do so admire the passion with which these French farmers look after their produce… it certainly shows and is in the taste… Thank you for more wonderful recipes… xv
Thank you Vicki! It’s such a pleasure meeting such earth loving passionate farmers. Such admirable dedication. Mimix
i absolutely have to try the asparagus with bechamel sauce. i am salivating just thinking about it! 🙂
I love the care and attention of French producers, a care which is harder to source here unless you shop at Farmers’ Markets . Mimi, is white asparagus more of a regional preference in the Medoc to the green?. I just love the of simplicity of the your smoked trout wrapped around the asparagus. Enjoy this wonderful seasonal treat Mimi as this delicacy is not with us for to long. xx Anita
Bonsoir from Paris (am here right now!) The Aquitaine region (of which Médoc is a part of) is renowned for its production of white asparagus called asperges des Sables des Landes and asperges du Blayais. White asparagus is extremely popular in this region! Such a treat! Bonne soirée, Mimix
Fantastique Mimi!!!! Dites bonjour a Paris pour moi!!! I hope everything is going perfectly for you. You deserve this xx anita
Oh Mimi, I love asparagus!! Especially the recipe “Gratin of asparagus with cheese béchamel” sounds very delicious. It’s a pity that we have no asparagus in Germany until now, as the weather is too cold. But when the season starts I will try your recipe. Have a nice evening! Nadine
Bonsoir Nadine! Oh, the gratin was a delight – simple and really tasty – a real hit with my family! Wishing you a bountiful asparagus season! Mimix
Such a beautiful, romantic view of life. Thank you.
Thank you for the deep insight in this french asparagus farm you and Oddur gave me – I feel moved especially by the photographs of the workers. It must be hard work to pick those delicious stems and I hope that they also can afford to buy the delicious fruit of their labour. Besides, like always, I admire the way you describe the recipes. Your love for the meals you’re preparing is always shimmering through every line. Have a beautiful week with your lovely family!
Bonsoir Yushka! Thank you so much for your kind words! You’d be happy to hear that M. Benard is very generous and all the workers get to go home with a copious amount of asparagus. Bonne soirée, Mimix
I LOVE asparagus too! Mostly because it is a beautiful declaration that spring is finally here. My favorite way to eat asparagus is shaved in ribbons and simply tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Perfection!
Thanks for sharing Amber! I just love to hear everybody’s favorite recipes! Mimix
Hi Mimi, Wow the asparagus looks amazing and delicious, I would love to try the Gratin of asparagus with cheese béchamel and the trout. Such inspiring recipes. Thank you xo
Merci Rowaida! Mimix
I adore white asparagus. Love all the area and people around you. Your recipes are as tasty as they are beautiful. Love to know how you stay so thin. Chasing children and dogs?
Bonsoir! Living around so many farmers is such a gift! These asparagus were so fresh, eaten hours after they were picked, filled with all the goodness we need. You’re right, it’s good exercise chasing all these wonderful creatures around me 🙂 Have a lovely evening, Mimix
Love this post and love white asparagus! I had them yesterday and they were almost sweet they were so good, but that gratin is in a whole other league!! Yum…….I love how everyone from your local baker to the asparagus grower is so chic in that refined country kind of way…only in France:)
I was reading about asparagus just the other day – apparently it has an incredible nutritional profile so it’s good to get a few new recipes in there Maybe the next superfood?! Beautiful, beautiful photos and post as always.
Hi Mimi, thank you ever so much for this virtual voyeur’s treat of asparagus. And I too adore the special asparagus plate! My region of North Germany is also famous for its white Spargel, but as everything else this year, we will have to wait a bit longer to savor these delicate spears until the weather warms up some. One of the specialities here is to enjoy them simply wrapped in fine sheets of cured ham, but I also like them topped with an orange-flavored Hollandaise. Here, we are also very thrifty and use all the shaved peelings along with the tips in the soup! ;o)
I meant, of course, to say along with the ‘ends’! I think your idea with smokes trout sounds delicious – as soon as ours are ready, I will try this. Liebe Grüsse, Marsha
Asparagus, such a delicate vegetable…
I wish we had white asparagus around here, but I’ll have to sattle with the fine green ones:)
Magnifique reportage sur ce produit pas si facile a faire pousser. Bravo pour les photos. Je salive rien qu’a regarder le gratin ….
we recently enjoyed pickled asparagus on a charcuterie board. delicious.
YOU AND YOUR PLATES!STUNNING!FLEA MARKETS OR FAMILY HEIRLOOMS?
Quelles belles photos! White asparagus is what I miss most from springtime in Paris.
Merci! I have just returned from the local honor-system farmstand with asparagus in hand! The gratin pleases me too.
I absolutely love your beautiful blog! The asparagus section is gorgeous! It made me want white asparagus that I had in Germany in a little town near Heidelberg! it was so delicious! Love your recipes!
Like others here, I have never had white asparagus, but I love the photos showing the food’s journey to the plate — beautiful! 🙂
Avec grand plaisir Astrid! Merci encore une fois pour votre accueil chaleureux – vos asperges sont vraiment magnifiques – un grand moment de pure gourmandise! Nous avons beaucoup aimé votre recette avec les tranches de truites. A bientôt – je passerai pour sûr cette semaine. Bon dimanche, surtout avec ce temps de rêve! Mimix
It’s great that you are showcasing wonderful local produce, Mimi. The recipes look delicious, thank you!
Quel plaîsir, bien sûr!
Vos photos Madame sont exceptionelles. Merci! Anita
J’adore des asperges!
So wonderful pictures.
And so simple and delicious recipe!
Quelle bonne idée de nous présenter de petits producteurs! Bravo!
I look forward to asparagus as one of the first signs of spring.
I love dishware and especially unusual dishware like your asparagus plate. It gets to be a real problem because I’m running out of cupboard space!
What a lovely post Mimi! I have yet to buy the first ‘botte d´asperges’ of the year here at the Côte d´Azur but when I do, I will try out Mme Benard´s recipe with the trout. Thank you!
Love your recipes, Mimi. The idea of adding asparagus ends into soup is wonderful. I always feel bad about throwing them away. Now I know 🙂 Thank you, Astrid and Mimi!
I never seem to get to cook asparagus because I like it so much raw! I just break off the woody part and dip it in a little vinaigrette. But now at least I will always use the ends for soup!
I also love asparagus raw and I feel now so happy to know there are other people who appreciate it this way:-)
I had the pleasure of sharing your site to my students this past week! As we are studying culture & cuisine françaises your site is really perfect for showing traditions, food, and the high value placed on good food, and sourcing locally. As a class we went through this post, then onto the snail farm, and then on to pigeon pie… I love the month focus (September is for Snails, April is for Asparagus…I hope you do more of those!). Your posting on snails is the best I have found so far on the web. Through your experiences-the photos, prose, & recipes my students understood the special role of food in French culture that is inspiring from the perspective of a college-aged American student …it was exciting for me (as a teacher) to see them get the picture regarding la cuisine française–the people, the food, the places. I will continue to use your blog in my classroom….merci mille fois…!
Bonjour Valérie, Thank you for such a wonderful comment! I am honored that you shared ‘Manger’ with your students, and I hope they enjoyed the little gourmand escape to France. It is always so exciting to visit our local farmers and artisans, discovering their passions, their lives and favorite recipes of course. We try our best to document these special moments, and share our love for food, family and life! It really warms my heart that you appreciate this. I will be visiting more farmers this month, so stay tuned. La cuisine, c’est le partage, la vie, l’amour! Have a lovely week, Mimix
This looks delicious. I’ll try adding potatoes with my next batch of asparagus soup. Recently, I made a pureed green veggie soup from asparagus, broccoli and kale too.
Tha sounds so good! Thanks for the tip, I will try! Mimix
These are absolutely gorgeous. One of my favorite posts in a photographic sense.
Oh, how I miss my asparagus! I had them growing in my little potager garden in Houston and harvested my first spears just before we moved to Austin. It’s so dry here. I have yet to add asparagus to the garden.
Hi MiMi! I love your site and just found it recently. I made the asparagus soup last night and loved it! I topped it off with homemade parmesan croutons with a side of venison summer sausage. So delicious on a bitterly cold evening. Thank you!
Would it be possible to replace white asparagus with green in the soup recipe? Unfortunately there is no white asapargus in my area and I am not sure how they compare,
I just made the soup, however, I needed to add a little protein so instead of potato I added some cashews. I topped it off with a fried egg and some fresh thyme and called it a meal. A big touché to you for making all of the above!
instead of cutting a third off, bend them until they snap., let nature decide ! save the bottom portion for soup .
i would recommend boiling with the peelings .
i make asparagus with a similar vinaigrette, only with walnut mustard, no garlic, and a generous pinch of saffron! vey lovely on a white fish too, like a mackerel.