May is here, which means its time for Spargel in Germany. That’s German for white asparagus, and folks over there go crazy for it. Restaurants load up their menus with all sorts of dishes featuring the springtime treat, and markets showcase it almost in the same way that Italians cradle their porcini and their white truffles.
But it’s only the white asparagus that Germans really love. They rarely eat a green vegetable, except lettuce possibly, and only under some sort of imminent threat or doctor’s orders.
I was made fun of one on one trip to visit family when I gorged on an incandescent nettle soup. It was so green that all of my relatives retreated in horror at the very sight. Not a one would taste it. Fine, I said, the more for me, and I treasured every spoonful.
So, I was surprised to find this recipe for Green Asparagus and Aged Gouda Dip (Spargelaufstrich) in “New German Cooking: Recipes for Classics Revisited” (Chronicle Books, $40) by Jeremy and Jessica Nolen with Drew Lazor. Then I read that the Nolens own Brauhaus Schmitz in Philadelphia and I immediately understood. This is a dish meant for American tastes, which are developed enough to eat and enjoy asparagus, no matter the color. (As long as it’s fresh, that is; keep the canned stuff away from me.)
Though the name of the dish calls for aged Gouda, the Nolens offer a substitute, if you can find it: “We like to use Dutch-made Prima Donna, a cheese that marries the best qualities of Parmesan and Gruyere, in place of the standard Gouda. The dip can be served hot or at room temperature.”
I didn’t have a teaspoon of fresh marjoram on hand, so I used a combination of dried savory and dried herbes de Provence in a smaller amount. It worked well.
So what if the green asparagus isn’t echt Deutsch, or authentic German? This starter tastes great: salty, tangy, bright and creamy all at once.
Green Asparagus and Aged Gouda Dip (Spargelaufstrich)
1 tablespoon canola oil or grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 pound green asparagus, tough ends trimmed and spears cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
4 shallots, sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup Riesling
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh marjoram
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup mayonnaise
3 ounces aged Gouda or Prima Donna cheese, grated
Rye, sourdough or pumpernickel bread for serving
In a medium frying pan, heat the oil and butter over medium high heat. When hot, add the asparagus and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring until the shallots and garlic are lightly browned, about 3 minutes longer. Pour in the Riesling and lemon juice, and cook until the liquid is reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Add the thyme, marjoram, salt and pepper, and stir well. Remove the pan from the heat.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. have ready a 2-quart baking dish.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, mayonnaise and Gouda, and beat on medium speed until completely combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer stand, and fold the asparagus mixture into the cheese mixture with a rubber spatula until evenly combined. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish.
Bake until golden brown on top, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. Accompany with rye bread.
Makes 6 servings.
Adapted from “New German Cooking: Recipes for Classics Revisited” by Jeremy and Jessica Nolen with Drew Lazor