Originally from Vienna, Monika Caha is known as a pioneer of Austrian food and wine in the US. She has owned and was executive chef at several restaurants, but she prefers to call herself a Heritage Cook. Monika is the president of Monika Caha Selections, an agency exclusively representing Austrian estate wineries in the US since 2003. She is currently working on a cookbook and a documentary series about the forgotten history and legacy of women’s cooking. —W&S
Truly good jumbo white asparagus is hard to find in the US. The best comes from Austria and Germany, where the farmers mound sandy earth over the asparagus by hand. This time-consuming practice prevents the asparagus from turning green as it grows thicker under the earth. It requires a lot of experience to grow it well, and the season is short, from early April until mid-June. In Austria, people consume it almost daily until cherry season starts, toward the end of June.
The thicker the white asparagus, the better it is. A true jumbo asparagus can be as thick as 5 cm/2 inches in diameter. The stems should be firm, and the tops should be fresh and tight; if it’s really fresh, then two stems rubbed together will make a squeaking sound. A little pink on top is a sign that it got tiny exposure to the sun before it was picked.
If you want to be part of this wonderful time of the year you can order the authentic Austrian (Marchfeld) jumbo white asparagus from Solex Catsmo (Minimum order 2 lbs).
There are also other countries that do produce very good jumbo asparagus. You can buy the asparagus at Baldor Specialty Foods (Netherlands origin), Eataly NYC (California) and Plantin Kaviari (France).
- ~2 lb. white asparagus (8 large stems) as thick as is available
- 4 Tbsp. sugar
- 2 tsp. salt
- 1 Tbsp. lemon juice freshly squeezed
- 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter melted
- 4 Tbsp. chives freshly minced
- Parmesan cheese freshly shaved
- 1/4 lb. Very thinly-sliced speck or Black Forest ham enough for 2-3 slices per asparagus spear
- 1 1/2 to 2 lb. waxy potatoes such as German butterballs, La Ratte or Austrian Crescent, peeled, boiled and tossed with a little butter, salt and pepper
- Just like with green asparagus, break the stem at the natural break point by bending the stem toward the bottom; the tough part will naturally snap off). Then cut each stalk to even out the ends. Peel the lower stems carefully with a vegetable peeler. (Do not peel the bud ends.) Save the ends and peels for the poaching liquid.
- Put the asparagus ends and peels in a large pot and cover with 2 liters of boiling water. Add 4 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon of salt and the juice of half a lemon to the broth and cook for 10 minutes on medium heat. Strain the broth and reheat, bringing it back to a medium boil.
- Now gently add the asparagus to the boiling water and boil for 5 to 10 minutes. (The time will vary depending on the thickness and age of the vegetable.) The asparagus is ready when you can slightly bend the ends of the stem with a fork or metal tongs. Be careful not to overcook the asparagus as it gets unpleasantly stringy; it should remain firm. When the spears are done, move them to a colander and drain off the excess cooking liquid.
- Present the asparagus on a large platter and top with melted unsalted butter, thinly sliced smoked Speck or other European smoked or cured ham (Prosciutto or imported Black Forest ham), shavings of Parmesan and a sprinkle of minced chives. Serve with the boiled and peeled potatoes. Salt and pepper to taste
- Pair with crisp Austrian Grüner Veltliner.
This recipe was published as part of our Regional Tasting Report on Austria.
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