An Homage to White Asparagus & Elizabeth

There are foods that I connect to specific people. Do you do this as well? When I see White Asparagus in a supermarket, farmer’s market or a photograph in a magazine I think immediately of Wouter’s Mother, Elizabeth Feldbusch. Every year when we visited her in Amsterdam, usually in mid or late Spring, she would always prepare a meal with White Asparagus in a very traditional Dutch way. We would go to the market and pick through the boxes, choosing carefully the best stalks in a somewhat ritualistic manner. And, unlike here in the United States, it is only eaten when in season, which is how most foods really should be eaten. This approach makes food more special and anticipated.

white asparagus

I am telling this story about White Asparagus as an homage to Elizabeth, who died this past week at the age of 93.5 years. Wouter and I have been partners for over 16 years often traveling to his childhood home in Amsterdam enjoying a couple of weeks with Elizabeth. For me this was a very magical time in a magical country. Every kitschy post card you have ever seen of a windmill or of wooden shoes or canals in reality is very beautiful and true. Elizabeth was always very enthusiastic to show me her country and for that kindness I am very appreciative.

Here are photos of Elizabeth’s “White Asparagus, Ham & Egg Dinner” served very simply with melted butter to drizzle over everything (instead of Hollandaise)  & wine, of course, from our visit last May.

Market fresh.

Elizabeth carefully trimming the large stalks.

See those scraps…later we will make soup!

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White Asparagus with warm butter, boiled eggs & ham. A fine and wonderful dinner it was. Lots of laughs, stories with Elizabeth, Cees, Annemieke, Wouter & me.

Here is my riff on Elizabeth’s traditional Dutch White Asparagus dinner. I took the same basic ingredients…well chosen White Asparagus, local farm eggs & some organic thinly sliced ham to make a “White Asparagus &  Ham Savory Pie”

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Here is what you will need:

1 lb of fresh White Asparagus

1 pie crust either home-made or store-bought

5 eggs

5-6 ounces of thinly sliced ham, chopped

6 ounces of white cheddar or gouda cheese, shredded

1 tbsp grainy mustard

1/2 cup heavy cream mixed with 1/2 cup whole milk

Thyme leaves

salt & pepper

Optional: a few small kale leaves

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How you make it:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Fit pie crust into a well buttered 8 or 9 inch springform pan or deep dish pie plate.

2. Rinse asparagus under cool running water & pat dry. Cut or break each stalk from the top down into 3 inch pieces more or less. These are the tender tops that we will use for our pie. Set aside the bottom part of the stalks and I will give you a tip for them a bit later.

3.  In a medium bowl whisk together the eggs, cream & milk, thyme leaves, salt & pepper.

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4. Brush, or with fingers, smear the mustard over the bottom of the pie crust.

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5. Sprinkle half the shredded cheese on top of the mustard coated crust. Top with chopped ham & remaining half of the shredded cheese.

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6. Gently pour egg mixture over the cheese & ham layers. Tap the pan lightly to allow eggs to sink down to the bottom.

7. Add the White Asparagus tops in a pin wheel or other decorative pattern over the top, scattering a few small kale leaves over the top.

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8. Bake for about 40 minutes or until puffy & golden brown and set in the middle. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before removing the sides of the springform pan if using. Serve warm or at room temperature cut into wedges.

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This is a story without an end as long as there is White Asparagus isn’t it?

“Quick White Asparagus Soup” / Tip for Scraps

Take scraps and put in a pan with 2 cups chicken stock & one cup water. Add some salt & pepper. Bring to a boil, turn to simmer & cook for about 30 minutes on low. Remove from the stove & let cool for 10 minutes. Carefully, working in batches, puree the mixture in a blender or food processor until smooth. Strain & put back in the pan, adding a splash of milk or half milk & yogurt whisking to blend. Just a bit of creaminess not too much. You will have a delicious White Asparagus soup! No waste is good. Thanks Elizabeth.

A Little Gallery from our visit last May:

Looking out the front window in Elizabeth's home where Wouter & his brother, Johan, grew up.

Looking out the front window in Elizabeth’s home where Wouter & his brother, Johan, grew up.

Another front window view.

Another front window view.

Plates from Elizabeth's travels adorn the kitchen wall. I think this is beautiful.

Plates from Elizabeth’s travels adorn the kitchen wall. I think this is beautiful.

Reading & Art, reading & art...and white asparagus!

Reading & Art, Music & Art…and white asparagus!

Always tulips on the table...always.

Always tulips on the table…always.

Wouter & Elizabeth posing for me.

Wouter & Elizabeth posing for me.

Bon Voyage Elizabeth, Bon Voyage.

Bon Voyage Elizabeth, Bon Voyage.

 

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50 comments

  1. What a lovely, touching post and oh how I love white asparagus. I just came back from Germany where I cooked white asparagus with boiled potatoes, ham, and hollandaise sauce for my 91 year old mom. She loved it..

    • Yes while I reading about White Asparagus I realized it is really the same meal eaten in Germany traditionally. It is very special and I know your Mom appreciated you cooking for her. Best to you.

  2. Licia

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful recipe and also a look into our dear Wouter’s Mom, her cooking and the wonderful pics of his neighborhood!

    • Oh Licia, how nice to hear from you. Wouter called me right after I posted this (7 hours later…he and his brother were sitting up talking and drink Jenever!). He told me that he cooked for the family tonight and that he made exactly Elizabeths White Asparagus, Ham & Boiled Eggs with melted butter! I guess we were on the same wave length or something. Anyhow he is well and will be happy you saw this. Big Hug.

  3. What a great tribute to Elizabeth, I loved the story that went with the recipe. Wonderful that you were able to share this family recipe with everyone. I’ve never tried to bake anything in a cheesecake tin that wasn’t sweet, I’ll definitely give this a try. I have seen white asparagus around these parts, just don’t know where I will get them from. The end product is just superb, both photos and I imagine the taste too.

  4. I love this post. So sweet and sincere. The white asparagus dish sounds amazing, I shall try it as soon as I figure out how I can get my hands on some white asparagus. :)

    • It is rather exotic and rare here in the United States, but this time of year it is available. I am a bit jealous that it is so plentiful for you! So very nice of you to stop by and say hi.

  5. a lovely and fitting tribute to Elizabeth. I love seeing the images from her apartment on the canal. I recall the anticipation that my Dutch family had, when white asparagus became available at the market. The dish we had was traditional, typical Dutch–akin to what Elizabeth was preparing, with ham, egg, potatoes, and “boter saus.”

    • Nance I am so happy that you enjoyed the photos of Elizabeth’s home. I have learned a lot about “nesting” from spending so much time in The Netherlands and it has all been good. White Asparagus dinners like hers is pretty typical and traditional over lots of Europe. You were a lucky girl to get to have this when you lived in Amsterdam…we need to recreate it along with our “rice tafel?”

  6. A beautiful tribute, Teresa. Thank you for sharing your wonderful memories and photographs of such a special lady. Your homage pie looks fabulous and I am sure she would have approved.

  7. A atory of happy memories of great times and a special person. The simple way of preparing while asparagus always makes me think of Amsterdam and my many happy holidays there. And your modern riff looks stunning – simple and easy too. A new favourite to take onwards with us x

  8. Thank you, dear Teresa, for this beautiful tribute, done with such style and grace, to our wonderful mother-in-law Elizabeth…how very ironic and perfect that as we were eating this meal in Amsterdam you were writing about it….you and Wouter are so very connected!!! It’s been special being here, and such fun listening to the brothers talking and laughing, as they always do together….with love and hoping to visit with you soon…xox

    • Barbara, it was so odd & wonderful when Wouter called and told me he had made this dinner for everyone last night. I kept thinking all week that I wanted in some way honor sweet Elizabeth from afar. Then, while in Whole Foods, I saw bundles of White Asparagus and that was it. I was off and running. This was a very special post for me because Elizabeth, Wouter and I would always shop and make this dinner together every year, up until last summer. Wouter and I did the shopping, but she insisted on doing the peeling…we did the rest and it was delicious as always. One of my favorite parts of this was how she saved the peelings to make soup…very light and delicious…and no waste. Having lived through WWII I suppose made her more aware of doing without and using all of what one has. A valuable lesson for us all.
      Thanks for your kind words. I have been with you in spirit. You guys need to come see us in Nashville this fall when it is very beautiful and cool? Love to you. T

  9. What a very special memory :) Thanks for sharing and this recipe looks so amazing! I definitely want to make it. I have never done any cooking with white asparagus.

  10. Terry and Lily Sue, thanks so much for leaving your nice comments. Lily Sue, This is my first “original” recipe using White Asparagus as well. Let me know how it turns out for you.

  11. LOVE white asparagus! One of the best meals of my life was white asparagus in a Brussels restaurant, simply prepared with chopped egg vinaigrette. I think Elizabeth would love the pie she inspired. Definately will try it! Did you know Thomas Jefferson brought the secret to growing white asparagus to America from Europe at Monticello?

      • Teresa, I thought I would have to wait for next spring to find white asparagus again but Trader Joe’s imported some from Peru and I am avout to make your quiche! I want to “ping” it back to you once I publish it but don’t know how. Could you kindly send me a quick line telling me how when you get a chance? Thanks so much! Won’t blog it until later this week. No rush at all.

  12. angelamroberts

    I don’t know if I’ve ever said this before. You’re not just a great food stylist. You’re a good cook! I would eat this up. I once made faux pasta out of white asparagus. It’s a strange vegetable!

  13. Mark Cianciolo

    Teresa, beautifully done. Looks like an excellent dish Elizabeth inspired. I enjoyed all the photos and the story and hope some day to sample the dish. This may be the dawning of The Age of White Asparagus.

    • Wow Mark, how great to hear from you. I did not even know you were aware of my blog…who knew? What fun to hear from you. I do believe this was my first time to make anything in my kitchen, this side of the pond, using White Asparagus. So this must indeed be the dawning of the “Neo-Age of White Asparagus”. Thanks Mark.

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