We Germans do love our asparagus.
In fact, we are completely crazy about asparagus.
Come asparagus season (from mid-April to end-June) little stalls are popping up across the whole country selling the precious white and green stems. Off course, you will also find them at farmers markets, grocery stores and supermarkets as well. Restaurants (in times when they are open) will offer special asparagus menus. Magazines will flood over with the newest asparagus themed recipes. Bookstores will display the newest books dedicated to asparagus. Household stores will display special cookware to prepare and serve white asparagus.
It seems a whole country is going crazy for a vegetable. It certainly does not harm that asparagus is rich in nutrients and very low in calories, so it’s a very healthy food too. That is especially true for the white stems, the favoured variety in Germany.
I am as crazy about asparagus as my fellow Germans, and asparagus both white and green will be on my menu several times a week during the season.
One thing I am currently quite sad about however, is that I had to cancel a trip to visit the annual asparagus festival in the little town of Schwetzingen, who claims to be the ‘asparagus capital of the world’.
The festival as well as touring part of the famous ‘asparagus route’ has been on my list for a while and I was finally due to go this year.
Well, I do not have to tell you why it won’t happen; but I am absolutely determined to visit next year.
In the meantime, I have created a virtual asparagus tour through Germany and put together a few tips how to prepare white asparagus and what wines to pair with it.
Read on to learn more about the regions growing asparagus in Germany and how to make the best of the asparagus season travelling through Germany.
Exploring Germany’s asparagus regions
Germany’s best-known asparagus-growing areas are located in the states of Baden-Württemberg and Lower Saxony, but you will find farms growing asparagus really across the whole country.
There are even various ‘asparagus routes’ through Germany.
Perhaps the most famous German asparagus route is the one called Badische Spargelstrasse, running from Schwetzingen near Stuttgart through Rehlingen, Karlsruhe and Rastatt all the way down to the town of Scherzheim in the Black Forest.
Though hundreds of acres of asparagus fields are lining the whole area, and many of the small towns along the road are celebrating their own asparagus festivals, the most famous asparagus festival in Germany is the one celebrated in Schwetzingen. It takes place on the second Saturday in May every year, which is also the time you will be able to admire one of the most beautiful cherry blossom alleys in Germany at the nearby Schwetzingen Castle.
The North Rhine Westphalian asparagus road runs between Bonn in the south up to Bielefeld in the north. Though it is a lesser known route for asparagus lovers, along the road, at the small city of Recklinghausen you will find the asparagus village Scherlebeck, with lots of activities happening during the asparagus season. There you will also find a museum entirely dedicated to asparagus, the Vestische Asparagus Museum.
Established in 1998 to support tourism in the area, the Lower Saxony asparagus road starts not far from the Dutch border and running eastwards all the way to the Luneburg Heath. Again, there are several interesting stops along the road where you can enjoy and learn more about asparagus.
Definitely stop at the small town of Nienburg, where another asparagus museum is located, the Lower Saxony Asparagus Museum. It is located in a 300-year-old German barn house surrounded by a beautifully planted large garden.
Finally, there is also an asparagus route not far from the German capital of Berlin, the Brandenburg asparagus road. To be fair, though there are lots of asparagus fields in the Brandenburg area, the most interesting spot for visitors is the historic town of Beelitz just southwest of Potsdam. The town produces around 50% of the area’s whole annual asparagus harvest. In June, an annual asparagus festival is also held in the town of Beelitz.
Along each of the four asparagus routes, you can buy asparagus directly from the various farms or the many roadside stalls set up during the season. In addition, you will find lots of local restaurants offering a large selection of asparagus menus.
How to prepare white asparagus
To make a perfect asparagus dish you need to select only the best stems. Asparagus should be eaten the day it is harvested. Freshness is key to perfect flavour and texture. The stems should be firm, crisp and plump, the tips intact and firm.
Peel the asparagus stems starting just below the tip until all of its fibrous outer skin is removed. Cut off the woody bottoms.
To cook the asparagus, either place it in a pot that is large enough to lay down the stems or one that will allow you to cook it standing up. Make sure to use minimum water for cooking. If laying down the asparagus, the water should just about cover it. If using the ‘stand up’ solution, the water should cover just about 2/3 of the stems. The tips will cook from steam which helps to retain the vitamins and minerals. I usually bind the stems loosely together with kitchen string to prevent them to move around and the tips get damaged.
Most restaurants serve asparagus al dente, which means the stems are still very firm. If you like it softer, you can cook it a bit longer without any problem. However, you should avoid overcooking as this means to lose the vitamins and the stems will become squashy. Depending on the thickness of the stems I usually cook asparagus for 15 to 20 minutes (adding the asparagus to the pot when the water starts to cook). The stems will be soft but still with a little resistance. If you prefer the ‘al dente’ version, cook for 6 to 10 minutes only.
What are the best asparagus recipes
On the last count, I have over 150 asparagus recipes. From soups to asparagus salads, pies, risotto, asparagus allegedly served as side vegetable to meat and fish (though in truth the main always is the main player and the meat or fish are just add-ons) and finally even deserts based on asparagus, there is no end to new variations served.
However, there are a couple of classic recipes that always work well and are usually quick to prepare as they focus on few main ingredients: White asparagus with ham and potatoes sprinkled with melted butter (or sauce hollandaise if you don’t mind the extra calories), white asparagus accompanied by escalope, potatoes and sauce hollandaise or white asparagus roasted in butter and sprinkled with bread crumbs served with fried veal.
But a potential seventy something days to fill with asparagus themed dishes clearly calls for some variation. Among my favourites are all sorts of asparagus pies, asparagus risotto and oven roasted asparagus.
If you want to try some of the classic variations, check out the links below.
White asparagus with hollandaise and parsley potatoes
White asparagus with Serrano ham and chive dressing
Roasted white asparagus with herbes de provence
What are the wines pairing well with asparagus
What wines do you pair to asparagus?
Asparagus is said to be a food difficult to pair with wine.
That might be the reason in Germany, during asparagus season you will find various ‘asparagus wines’ being sold. The name is a bit misleading; we are still talking about white wines. Yet the term was chosen for wines that go well with asparagus.
In truth, there is a large variety of wines that work well with asparagus without the need to go for those specifically marketed as ‘asparagus wines’.
As for white asparagus, it typically works well with a dry Riesling or a Pinot Blanc.
Meanwhile, a wine pairing well with green asparagus, especially when steamed or boiled, is Sauvignon Blanc.
When serving green asparagus with a sauce hollandaise, try a lightly oaked Chardonnay.
Among my favourite green asparagus dishes are quiches or frittatas prepared with asparagus. They pair well with champagnes and sparkling wines, especially sparkling based on Chardonnay vines.
Have you ever been to the German asparagus regions during asparagus season?
What are your favourite asparagus dishes and what wines do you normally pair with asparagus?
Let me know about your experience.