“Europeans of the Renaissance swore by it as an aphrodisiac, and the church banned it from nunneries.” said Barbara Kingsolver in her book ‘Animal, Vegetable, and Miracle: A year of food life’. Helen Yoest in her 2014 book ‘Plants with benefits’, a horticultural Kamasutra as she suggests also mentions of it fit for a pre-sex meal. Asparagus the stalky, fibrous vegetable is packed with vitamins and folate and yes, it does much more to your system than just getting you turned on. Okay one last time, it also found a big mention in ‘The Perfumed Garden’ an Arabic Sex Manual from the 15th Century.
Sofitel hotel in BKC, Mumbai is celebrating this vegetable with a special menu created by Chef Indrajit Saha till 10th August at the Pondicherry café and I was privy to it last evening. A spring vegetable, now grown almost throughout the world, asparagus is known for its subtle, earthy aromas and the crunch. It wilts faster than any other vegetable and hence must be used closer to harvest for the experience. Available in Green and White (read ivory) variants, the latter is popular Europe, it is grown underground and hence devoid of colour. The white one is thicker and requires stringing/peeling before being blanched/steamed vis-à-vis the green which could many a times do without peeling, white costs around Rs 2000 a Kg and the green comes at third the cost.
The menu was very limited giving a vegetarian no choice in their 4 course a la carte selection; I was perturbed initially but was delighted after the meal. I started with the white and green asparagus soup, it was truly soul warming, the tangy and earthy green and the rich and nutty white were simmered just right, and the salty and piquant goat cheese fritters served on the side just enhanced it. The French classic; Asparagus spears with Hollandaise sauce came in next. A vegetarian hollandaise is a paradox but I thought to give it a try, it failed miserably and hence I requested for the classic with eggs (I like eggs) to go with the perfectly steamed spears of white asparagus and this sauce met expectations. A glass of Chardonnay by Indian brand Reveilo went very well with the dish and had surprising acidity to match up to the fatty sauce. For mains was Potato Gnocchi with asparagus, cherry tomatoes and sage butter, tossed up well. To end the evening was Asparagus Panna Cotta served with Saffron ice-cream. It was light and sublime and the ice-cream which was loaded with saffron complemented it fine. Chef Rajiv Upadhyay the Pastry chef of the hotel said, ‘ You cannot demould a panna cotta as it is cooked milk without a setting agent just like our curds. If you do see one de-moulded you know it is sham’. I could not taste and tell the asparagus in it, but perhaps it served a different purpose. By now you know what I mean!!!
The festival is on till the 10th of August, I am sure you will not be disappointed if you are an asparagus lover!