Crispy Asparagus Appetizers
I have always thought of asparagus as a harbinger of spring. My mother served it with lemon and butter alongside the Easter lamb and new potatoes. She preferred very thin green stalks, so I understood them to be the pick of the crop.
I left home and moved to Holland as a young adult. Spargelzeit, or asparagus season, arrived in April after my first long, dark winter in Amsterdam. The Dutch flocked in droves to Germany’s Baden region for its annual White Asparagus Festival. I joined them in a cultural awakening, learning that not everyone agreed with my mother’s assessment of what makes the best asparagus spears. In place of thin, green stalks, I learned to savor the newly harvested crop of white asparagus. Fat white stalks, smothered in Hollandaise. The Germans call it ‘white gold’ and far prefer it to the green variety most commonly sold in our North American markets.
White asparagus is harvested when its stalks are still underground. Light deprivation prevents the production of chlorophyll. As a result, the green color is absent from the stalks. Since asparagus becomes woodier the longer it is left to grow, some prefer the slightly milder taste of the tender white stalks.
White and green asparagus may be used interchangeably in recipes. I think there is no better way to cook asparagus than to roast it with a little olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Leftovers are delicious when paired with shaved Parmesan and tossed with salad greens.
The following recipe is one that always gets raves when I serve it as an appetizer. It is easy and delicious. Prosciutto may be eliminated for a vegetarian treat. If using prosciutto, you may want to cut down on the Parmesan as they are both rather salty.
Crispy Asparagus Appetizers
6 long thick asparagus spears, trimmed
Sliced proscuitto, optional
6 sheets phyllo dough
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400.
Blanch asparagus spears in boiling salted water for 2 minutes or until tender-crisp; drain.
Rinse in cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Season with pepper.
Roll each asparagus spear in prosciutto, if desired.
Brush one sheet of phyllo dough with melted butter and sprinkle with 1 tbs. of Parmesan cheese and a pinch of nutmeg. Place the prosciutto-wrapped asparagus on the short side of the phyllo and roll it up. Brush the roll with butter. Sprinkle with additional cheese. Place on a baking sheet. Continue with the remaining spears.
Bake on top shelf of oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown and crisp. Remove to wire rack and cool slightly. Serve whole or slice at an angle into bite sized pieces.
Adapted from Black Tie to Blackeyed Peas, Savannah’s Savory Secrets (2000)