Also known as "white gold," this vegetable from Navarre can be enjoyed all year round from a can, where it maintains its qualities, driving the imagination of the very best chefs
Before we begin, a clarification: green asparagus and white asparagus are the same vegetable. White asparagus is harvested just when the bud (the tip of the fruit) emerges above the soil ridge, which is arranged to protect the fruit from the light. If the plant is not protected from sunlight, the color of the asparagus changes from white to green due to the effect of the chlorophyll.
This method preserves the asparagus' white color and gives it personality. A seasonal product, the best-known white asparagus in Spain is grown in the Ribera del Ebro, which includes Navarre, La Rioja, and Aragon. In April and May, when it's harvested, it's sold fresh in greengrocers and markets. However, the power of the canning industry in the area allows us to enjoy this vegetable all year long. In both cases, it's sold with the Asparagus of Navarre PGI.
A simple but delicious canning process
The canning process is very simple: first, the produce is selected. Then, the most fibrous parts are peeled and discarded. Next, the asparagus is cooked. Finally, it's placed in cans or jars, along with a liquid comprised of water with salt. This procedure allows us to enjoy asparagus in all their splendor: white, tender, and juicy, all year long.
One of the companies that produces canned PGI asparagus is El Navarrico, based in the town of San Adrián (Navarre). They sell very thick and extra thick asparagus, the most popular among consumers, who can enjoy the delicious flavor of this vegetable. The "extra" category under which they're sold means that they're straight stalks with a completely closed bud.
Quality white asparagus is considered a true gem among Spanish canned food. Although it's sold in all sizes, the thickest ones are considered to be the best by gourmets. In addition to their delicious flavor, they're also low in calories, very rich in fiber, and very diuretic. They taste best when served warm or at room temperature.
Although they can be enjoyed with a good splash of EVOO or homemade mayonnaise, asparagus can be prepared in a multitude of ways. One fan of white asparagus is chef José Andrés, who has created numerous recipes with them. In his book, Vegetables Unleashed: A Cookbook, written together with Matt Goulding, he suggests serving them with a Manchego cheese cream, creating a mix of textures in which the creaminess is always spectacular alongside the asparagus. Adding a little extra grated cheese on top makes the dish totally irresistible.
Another of José Andrés' proposals is to get all the "juice" out of the canned asparagus. In this case, he uses asparagus from a can together with its liquid to prepare a soup with water, oil, vinegar, salt, and egg. The tips of the asparagus are used to garnish the soup, together with some pieces of jamón ibérico, which add a fatty touch. And no, that's not a mistake: the liquid from the can is perfectly suitable for eating.
Chef Pepe Solla, who runs Casa Solla restaurant in the village of San Salvador de Poio (Pontevedra, Galicia), is keen to make the most of every last drop of in a can of white asparagus. "It's easier to use the water than the oil from a can because it's a broth and that's the most important thing in cooking," Solla says, on the El Navarrico website. "When you make a stew, instead of adding water, you add the canning liquid, and the stew will be exceptional." For Solla, both the solid and liquid parts in a can are used to prepare a cream that's accompanied by black pudding and puff pastry. Just further evidence that, in the case of white asparagus, nothing at all should be wasted.