The Dutch are a peculiar nation. They get so excited so easily. For instance, something the Dutch get very excited about is Queensday (or, from this year onward, Kingsday), a national holiday loosely centred around the monarch. As the big day draws near, the Dutch will start painting everything orange. Buildings, bikes, pets, just about anything can fall victim to Dutch orange fever. And then, when the holiday finally arrives, everyone dresses up in orange clothes and paints their face orange and puts on paper orange crowns and eats orange snacks.
The Dutch do the same for the World and Euro cup, the Eurovision Song contest and occasionally for a New year’s tradition where everyone runs into the North Sea wearing orange beanie hats sponsored by the country’s biggest producer of smoked sausage.
You get my point. What I am trying to say is that the Dutch tend to get excited en masse about the same thing at the same time.
How is this relevant, you ask?
One of the biggest Dutch-exciters of the year is white asparagus. These things are only available for a couple of months a year (May – June) and the country goes mad for them. People will drive all the way to the south, the only region in the Netherlands where they grow (something to do with the soil there being excellent for white asparagus growing purposes), in order to get their hands on the freshest, most excellent asparagus, which they refer to as The White Gold (yes, with capitals). For weeks on end, almost all conversation will be centred around ‘have you had asparagus yet this season where’d you get them what’d you pay’.
The one thing you don’t talk about is how you prepared them – there’s only one way: boiled, with butter sauce, new potatoes, boiled eggs and ham. Or Hollandaise, I guess.
Preparing white asparagus is easy and if you’re Dutch, you’ll probably know all of this already: skip ahead for asparagus soup! If you’re British, this will probably be somewhat of a novelty to you. You might also wonder where you’re gonna get white asparagus. I’ll tell you: on the European mainland. Or, according to this article, right here in the UK.
You really want to eat asparagus with a bunch of friends rather than by yourself or just with your spouse or flatmate. I’m not sure why, that just seems to be the way it works. Count half a kilo per person, because you’ll lose a lot of the weight peeling them – and what you have left, you can use for soup.
So, for however many people you’ve invited, you will need:
- a load of asparagus (as said, half a kilo per person – this will get you a feast worthy of gods, but if you’re after a more modest meal, settle for 300 gr per person)
- a load of new potatoes (I don’t know how much exactly, just see for yourself)
- enough eggs, boiled – at the very least one per person
- a bunch of ham – just some Wiltshire or York ham
- enough butter – not margarine. I SAID NOT MARGARINE!
- some fresh parsley (although this one’s entirely optional)
***Scroll down for the soup!***
So, you start by peeling the asparagus. The outside is really hard and stringy and you want to get rid of all of it, so don’t try to economise by leaving too much skin on – you’ll regret it later. You’ll also need to chop at least a good inch off the bottom. Save everything that comes off, though, and make stock out of it – you can use this later for the soup!
Boil the skins and stalk ends in a large pan of water. After you’ve left that to boil for at least 15 minutes, but no longer than half an hour, pour it through a sieve or colander into another cooking vessel. Then boil the asparagus in that same water, to which you should add some salt and a bit of sugar (important! The sugar prevents the asparagus from tasting bitter) – depending on the size of the stalks you should boil them for about 7-8 minutes, then take them off the heat and leave them for another 10 to 15 minutes. When you drain them, BE SURE TO SAVE THE WATER TO MAKE SOUP OUT OF LATER.
In the meantime, melt the butter down – that’s all you need to do to it, we’re not making any actual sauce, we’re just having liquid butter. Don’t make that face. It’ll be delicious, I swear. Also boil the potatoes and chop up the parsley. Boil the eggs and peel and halve them.
Serve up and drink with a whole bunch of white wine. Feel like a god in heaven.
Now for the soup! This one is so easy. A lot of people add veg or chicken stock and cream and things to their soup – I think this is a shame, as all those things will overwhelm the delightful asparagus flavour that you worked so hard on obtaining when you were preparing your asparagus the night before. We’re going super simple.
For about a litre of soup you will need:
- 1 litre of the asparagus stock (or boiling water) that I told you repeatedly to save (you have saved it, right?)
- 50 gr flour
- 50 gr butter
- whatever else you still have left from your asparagus feast – just potato in my case, but if you’re lucky a little bit of asparagus, ham and/or eggs as well
- pinch of salt and pepper
Make a roux as you’d normally do by melting the butter in a (sauce)pan and mixing in the flour. Now gradually add the (slightly preheated) asparagus stock, whilst you keep stirring. Don’t let it boil! Add salt and pepper to taste.
Chop the remaining ingredients into chunks and stir them in at the last moment. Serve up topped with a little bit of parsley.