As a child, asparagus was never part of my mum’s Hungarian cooking. Then I moved to Veneto and discovered that, every spring, white asparagus makes its way to every vegetable stand in Italy. The Italians don’t see white asparagus as an ordinary vegetable. Instead, it’s sought after and cherished.
But I’ve also learned that not all white asparagus is equal.
The origins of white asparagus
Asparagus has been part of Veneto’s cuisine for centuries. It is said that the cultivation of asparagus originated in Mesopotamia, then spread to ancient Egypt and Asia Minor more than 2000 years ago and subsequently throughout the Mediterranean. White asparagus is green asparagus that’s been grown under dirt, so that it never sees sunlight, leading to its ghostly white appearance.
These ‘noble spears’ were often present on the tables of the Roman emperors and also recorded on the Venetian Republic’s expense reports relating to banquets in the mid-1500s. The Doge Andrea Gritti incurred these expenses to purchase sparasi mazi (bunches of asparagus) in the Bassano area.
Today you’ll see white asparagus cultivated across Italy’s northern regions, but only three geographically designated areas produce superior quality. These three areas are all in Veneto, namely Asparago Bianco di Bassano DOP, Asparago Bianco I.G.P di Badoere, and the Asparago Bianco di Cimadolmo IGP.
How I fell in love with white asparagus
My first experience with white asparagus came in the spring of 2002 when everywhere I went there was an abundance of dishes with ‘asparagi’. Tramezzini, creamy dips, risotto, pasta, soup, side dishes, you name it. White asparagus was everywhere. My favorite version of them all was how Pier prepared it for me: steamed asparagus with boiled eggs, aka Asparagi e Uova alla Veneta.
This traditional Veneto dish for four people needs just a few ingredients and about 20 minutes of your time.
Asparagi e Uova alla Veneta
1kg of white asparagus from Veneto
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper
To prepare, cut the final part of the asparagus, in order to eliminate the hard part. Peel it with the help of a potato peeler or a knife in order to remove the hard filaments. For convenience in cooking, they can be tied into bunches of about 10 asparagus and trimmed to ensure that they are the same size.
You can cook them simply by immersion in a tall and narrow pot, leaving the tip of the asparagus above the water. As an alternative, you can steam them, as Pier does. When cooked, arrange them on the plate season with salt and pepper and extra virgin olive oil.
Boil the eggs and serve them with the asparagus either cut in half or crumbled into small pieces.
How you enjoy your eggs is totally up to you. We prefer them crumbled for this dish because making a mess on the plate with olive oil, eggs, pepper, salt, and asparagus is a must for us.
Photo from shutterstock