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.

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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.