In the 1720s, the Venetian artist Giovanni Battista Piazzetta decided to paint a version of the Supper at Emmaus, an episode from the Gospel according to Saint Luke. In the story, the newly risen Christ appears to two disciples on the road from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus. The story takes place on Easter Sunday evening and in order to show this Piazzetta decided to depict food which was in season in the Veneto at that time. And so, sitting on the table in front of Jesus is a pile of delicious looking white asparagus. You can see a photograph of the painting here.
White asparagus is found all over the Veneto, most notably from the area around Bassano del Grappa. It differs from green asparagus in that it’s picked before the shoots are allowed to come above ground, hence the white colour caused through lack of chlorophyll.
To prepare white asparagus, you should remove the hard ends. You do this by holding a piece of asparagus in both hands, and then lightly pressing with your thumbs until it snaps naturally. Throw the piece from the root away and keep the rest. You should also peel the outer layers of skin off with a potato peeler, since these can be quite tough with cellulose.
In the Veneto, these asparagus (or sparasi in Venetian) are served with a sauce of eggs, vinegar, and olive oil. As in the recipe below, anchovies and capers are often added to the sauce instead of salt. This makes a great light lunch or a starter. If you can’t get white asparagus this dish is just as good with green.
Sparasi alla Veneta
Serves: 4 as a starter
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes
16 white asparagus spears
4 eggs, hardboiled and shelled
8 anchovy fillets
1 tablespoon capers
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
200 ml extra virgin olive oil
- Place the white asparagus (prepared as above) in a steamer and cook for ten to fifteen minutes.
- In the meantime, place the eggs, anchovy fillets and capers in a food processor and whizz until all combined.
- With the mixer going, add the vinegar and olive oil slowly until it has been incorporated.
- When the asparagus is cooked, serve immediately with the sauce.