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White Asparagus with Mandarin Orange Mayonnaise

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

At the market, white asparagus is less common than green, so splurge when you see it, or create a striking platter by using a mixture of white and green spears. If you are using both colors, cook the green spears separately for less time; they will take 5 to 7 minutes, depending on their size.

NotesUse a mild-flavored olive oil for the mayonnaise or it will overwhelm the sauce. Most Tuscan oils would not be a good choice, for example, as they are typically strong flavored. Instead, use a milder French, Tunisian, Moroccan, or Ligurian oil. Or, use a subtle California extra-virgin olive oil from the Sciabica family of Modesto, such as their spring-harvest oil made from Mission olives.

Nick Sciabica & Sons

Nick Sciabica & Sons is the oldest continuously existing olive oil-producing company in California. The family migrated from Sicily to Modesto, where they briefly farmed fruits and vegetables. Then in 1936, Nicola Sciabica started making olive oil, putting into practice what he had learned as boy in his homeland. When he was unable to sell all that he produced in California, he went to the East Coast to sell bottle by bottle-door to door-in Italian neighborhoods.

At first the family struggled with competition from cheaper imports from Italy and Spain. But slowly business improved, largely due to an increased interest in the health benefits of olive oil. The family eventually bought machinery and started to produce oil in a continuous process. Costs of harvesting by hand and of production (sorting, crushing, pressing, and bottling) plague all growers and producers; the Sciabica family is no exception. Today, the family cold presses their own olives and the olives of over fifty growers that market oils under their own labels.

The Sciabicas have over six hundred trees in Modesto, and an organic orchard of forty four hundred trees in Calaveras County. Combined, the orchards yield twenty-five varieties of extra-virgin olive oil. Those include the typical California varieties and imported cultivars from Italy and France. The Sciabicas take to market one of the largest selections of extra-virgin olive oils available anywhere from one source. They have filtered and unfiltered versions of many of their single varietals, as well as oil flavored with garlic, rosemary, basil, lemon, or orange.

“In California, we don’t have huge crops to process all at once,” explains Dan Sciabica, grandson of the founder. “In fact, we are known for small pressings of single varietal oils. Here, we can pick the same variety of olives at different times of the year. Americans are used to having a selection, so we release early-, mid-, and late-harvest oils made from the same type of olive. The oil will taste different at each stage-one will be from olives that are green and underripe in the fall; the midseason oils will be from some green, some black, and some rosy olives; while the other extreme is pressed from sweet, very ripe black olives harvested well into spring. They don’t usually have that luxury in Europe-their crops are too expansive and need immediate attention.”

Pest management in the Sciabica orchards is basic. Annoying squirrels and rattlesnakes are kept under control with a .22-caliber rifle. Infestation from the dreaded olive fly has been avoided so far, but should the fly show up, it will be handled with an organic spray.

And no matter what the workday brings at the olive-pressing plant in Modesto, Gemma, Dan’s mother, always cooks a huge, traditional midday Italian meal for the whole family.

Serves4

Cooking MethodSteaming

CostModerate

Total Timeunder 1 hour

Make Ahead RecipeYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Formal Dinner Party

Recipe CourseAppetizer, Side Dish

Dietary ConsiderationGluten-free, Halal, Kosher, Lactose-free, Peanut Free, Soy Free, Tree Nut Free, Vegetarian

Five Ingredients or LessYes

MealDinner

Taste and TextureCreamy, Crisp, Garlicky

Type of DishCondiments, Vegetable

Ingredients

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Generous pinch of kosher or sea salt
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup mild extra virgin olive oil (see Notes)
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 small mandarin orange (about 1 tablespoon juice)
  • 1 pound white asparagus spears, tough ends snapped off and spears peeled

Instructions

  1. To make the mayonnaise, use a mortar with a pestle for the best results. Mince the garlic and place in the mortar with the salt. Pound together until a smooth paste forms. Whisk the egg yolks into the garlic-salt mixture until it is pale and creamy. While whisking constantly, start to add the olive oil a few drops at a time until the mixture emulsifies and begins to thicken. At this point, you can begin adding the remaining oil in a thin, slow, steady stream. Continue whisking until all the oil is incorporated. Whisk in the mandarin orange zest and juice. Cover and refrigerate until serving.

  2. Alternatively, to use a blender, chop the garlic and place in the blender with the salt. Blend briefly, then add the yolks and blend briefly until pale and creamy. With the motor running, begin adding the olive oil. A few drops at a time until the mixture emulsifies and begins to thicken: At this point, you can begin adding the remaining oil in a thin, slow, steady stream. Add the mandarin orange zest and juice and pulse to incorporate. Cover and refrigerate until serving.

  3. Divide the asparagus into 2 equal piles and secure each pile, into a bundle with kitchen string. Pour water to a depth of about 5 inches into an asparagus pot or other deep, narrow pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Stand the asparagus bundles, tips up, in the pan, reduce the heat to medium, cover, and cook until the ends are tender when pierced with a fork, 20 to 30 minutes.

  4. Using tongs, remove the bundles from the water and lay them on a clean kitchen towel to absorb excess moisture. Cut the strings and arrange the asparagus, with all the tips in one direction, on a platter. They can be served warm or at room temperature. If water accumulates under the asparagus, pour it off before serving.

  5. Serve the asparagus with some of the mayonnaise spooned in a band over the spears and the remainder offered in a bowl alongside.

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