I look forward to big, fat springtime asparagus and I’ve allotted quite a bit of space to the beautiful green spears that deliciously beckon the arrival of warmer days. Some of my favorites include Bistro-Inspired Asparagus with Mimosa Sauce and Grilled Asparagus with Warm Crab Salad. Here in Southern California green asparagus season is April thru June. However, there’s another shorter (sweeter) asparagus season and it begins right now. I’m talking about white asparagus. White asparagus pairs beautifully with grapefruit. Which is great because Ruby Red Texas Grapefruit also hits its stride in March. Add to that a third seasonal favorite, California avocados, and you’ve got a White Asparagus and Grapefruit Salad with Green Goddess Dressing that suits the season perfectly.
Genetically speaking white asparagus is no different than green asparagus, with one exception. White asparagus never sees the sun so it never develops the chlorophyll that would turn the stalks green. It’s a time-honored agricultural process, and though farmers have a made some concessions for modernity, the cultivation of white asparagus has remained largely the same for many generations.
Farmers plant the stalks in long mounded rows. As the plants grow, the rising spears are piled with dirt. The least amount of sunlight could color the asparagus and ruin the entire crop. It’s a fascinating process, but the most important result the cook needs to know is that white asparagus develops a fibrous skin and therefore should be peeled before cooking.
As I said white asparagus is identical to herbaceous green asparagus (minus the chlorophyll). However, it tastes quite different because it carries the terroir of the soil its grown in. As with wine grapes, the soil actually influences the flavor. So my California grown Asparagus and Grapefruit Salad might taste different from the version you whip up in your own neck of the woods. That’s fascinating, don’t you think? GREG