I lived in Germany after graduating university and one thing among many for which I developed an affinity is white asparagus. It is eaten far more widely in Germany and daresay, much of the world, than the green variety and has such a delicate and soft flavor that it really makes the green variety seem astringent. When I lived there, the predominant preparation was with a heavy cheese sauce, however. Which is good at times but not particularly appealing on a hot summer day in New York. It turns out that Mr. Scrumptious loves it too, so I've been thinking of a bright, fresh summer preparation to please us both. With a little thought and memory of a spectacular soup I once had, I came up with a beautiful and tasty side dish that will work well with almost any protein you serve on the lighter side. This is my "White Asparagus with Orange-Herb Sauce."
My idea for this recipe sprung up when I remembered the most incredible white asparagus soup I had at Jean Georges, a spectacular New York restaurant, a couple of years ago. I have never forgotten that amazing concoction and the stunning surprise that made it so memorable was the citrus flavors used in the soup. While I haven't attempted to re-create that dish yet, this idea was indeed a play on what I learned about the combination of white asparagus and citrus and the way in which a soft and delicate flavor can be further drawn out by a slightly tart yet still sweet acid. By the way, white asparagus has a reputation for being bitter, but it's not true if you heed a couple of important rules. Buy it fresh and young, make sure to always snap off the bottom where it's thick and woody and you MUST peel it well. The outer skin is definitely more bitter than green, so just whisk it away.
I also use the jarred white asparagus in certain recipes, but not this one. You must go with fresh here, to get the fantastic fresh tastes!
1 lb. fresh white asparagus, cleaned, peeled and trimmed
3 pinches kosher salt plus more to taste
3 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 juicy orange (such as Valencia) zested, halved and squeezed for its juice
1 tsp. Rose's sweetened lime juice
2 T. fresh lemon thyme, lemon balm and tarragon finely minced (use any citrus-toned herb on hand)
2 T. cold unsalted butter
freshly ground white pepper, to taste
1. Cover the bottom of a large, wide skillet with 1/2" water and bring to a boil. Add three pinches of kosher salt and the asparagus. Cover, reduce heat to medium and let steam for 8-10 minutes, until stalks are fork-tender. Remove the asparagus from the water with tongs and set aside. Dump the water out of the skillet and return to heat on the stove.
2. Adjust the heat to medium-high and add the extra virgin olive oil. When shimmering, add the shallot and saute until translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Squeeze in the orange juice from each half of the orange, add the sweetened lime juice and stir. Turn heat to low.
3. Let the juices reduce by about half and then add the fresh herbs and cold butter, and stir with a wooden spoon until incorporated and melted. Season to taste with kosher salt and ground white pepper. Gently place the asparagus back into the skillet and reheat and toss with the orange-herb sauce. Serve the asparagus and spoon extra sauce over the top. Serve immediately.