Discover Asparagus

19 May 2014


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Discover the different types of AsparagusAs springtime steadily approaches, seasonal ingredients start to appear in French markets. However, they will only be available for a few months, and so it's a great idea to make the very best of them. Asparagus is one of the ingredients that marks the start of the warmer months, and May is the perfect time to enjoy all of the different varieties of this vegetable that France has to offer.

Crisp, delicate asparagus is high in fiber and water, and low in calories. During the warmer months, it is a much sought-after ingredient. Asparagus has been grown in areas of France with sandy soils since the Renaissance, and was a favorite ingredient of many a French king, particularly Louis XIV.

Though there are different types of asparagus -- white, green, purple and even red – they are all essentially the same, but each type is grown in a different way. If grown underground, the asparagus will be white. Once the tip emerges from the earth, it will turn purple. If the asparagus is grown above ground with access to sunlight, it will turn green.

Green asparagus is grown in the South of France, and has a strong, slightly sweet flavor. In the town of Pertuis in Provence, growing asparagus has been a tradition since the 19th century. Green Pertuis asparagus is recognized as being one of the best asparagus varieties. A large amount of green asparagus is grown in the Languedoc and around Toulouse, and wild asparagus is also found in the South, particularly in the Cévennes and Pyrenees regions. Wild asparagus looks very elegant on a plate, and is often served as a garnish.

White asparagus, a specialty grown in the Center and Landes regions, has a delicate nutty flavor that is slightly more bitter than that of green asparagus. Its texture is firmer and it is covered with a thick fibrous outer layer which should be removed before eating. “Asperge des Sables” (literally “asparagus from the sand”) from the Landes region has I.G.P (“Protected Geographical Status”) status, and is one of the most well-known varieties of the vegetable. Its white color and tightly closed bud make it easy to recognize. Argenteuil, a town in the Ile-de-France region, was also part of the history of this illustrious vegetable, which used to be grown in the town's vineyards in abundance. Argenteuil asparagus spears are thick and white with a pale pink tip. Today, urban development has meant that the town no longer produces asparagus, but the vegetable is still grown in more rural areas, and has kept its name. The name is also used for certain dishes containing asparagus, such as Argenteuil French-style scrambled eggs or Argenteuil asparagus soup.

Asparagus of all colors is classically boiled or steamed in a bundle; however it is going to be served. It makes the perfect appetizer; white asparagus is served with a mousseline sauce, and green asparagus is served with vinaigrette. The spears can be added to a salad or served as a garnish with meat and fish.

The simple preparation techniques and delicious flavor of asparagus make it the star of any springtime meal.

Institut des Hautes Etudes du Goût, de la Gastronomie et des des Arts de la Table

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