Spargelzeit (Asparagus time)
Finally, it is spring again! Although all seasons have their advantages, spring might be my favourite because of many small reasons: The first days of going outside without a coat, enjoying the first warm rays of sunshine. The birds singing in the tree in front of my house when I wake up. The flowering trees in all colours, especially everywhere in Berlin. The new vegetables on the market. Stalls selling strawberries and asparagus popping up everywhere in the city.
For the past two years, this has also been the time that my parents have been visiting me. This year the weather was amazing, meaning we enjoyed a lot of time outside in the streets, in parks and in beergartens. Especially for my dad this is an interesting time of the year to visit Germany, due to the abundance of asparagus. They are not just available in the shops, also many of the restaurants have a separate asparagus menu. The asparagus time, or Spargelzeit, lasting from around end of April till mid June is definitely a thing.
Asparagus are, in my opinion, quite an interesting vegetable. They usually grow in Europe and some parts of Asia, and have been known for a long time. They were eaten by the Greeks and Romans already. The vegetable is actually the young, tender stem of the plant. When it continues growing it becomes woody and cannot be eaten anymore. It is also a vegetable with a very high nutritional value that is even seen as an aphrodisiac by some. Not surprisingly, this is not only due to their health benefits, but partly also due to their shape. And of course, there is the distinction between the green and the white asparagus. The white ones are produced using a special technique. The shoots are basically covered so that they do not see the sunlight. In this way, the plants cannot start the normal process of photosynthesis and they stay white. I feel like the green ones are pretty eaten everywhere, but the white ones are much more common in countries like the UK, Germany and the Netherlands. Being Dutch myself, I grew up eating the white ones the “traditional” way. This meant with boiled egg, some high quality ham and butter. It is not something that I eat very often now, not even when it is the asparagus season. But it is still something I very much like once in a while. And it is also the dish my dad and I made together when my parents were visiting.
Since it currently is Spargelzeit, it was about time for me to post a spring and asparagus related recipe. Because the green ones are widely available, and in my opinion easier to combine with different ingredients and to prepare in different ways, I decided to choose for a recipe with the green ones. And as I was thinking about the time with family, tortellini came in mind. I really enjoy making tortellini, but it takes some time to fold them. So it really is a labour of love, perfect to make for family or good friends. In this way the below recipe came into being, using mortadella and ricotta for a creamy tortellini filling and having a fresh broth to cut through the richness of the pasta.
Spring tortellini with asparagus in a ginger broth
Of course, it is easy to make this recipe vegetarian as well. You can just leave the mortadella out of the tortellini filling and replace with some more asparagus, or add some young spinach leaves to the filling that you add while frying the chopped asparagus.
Ingredients (for two as a starter)
- Flour – 100 grams + extra for dusting
- 1 egg
- Green asparagus – a small bunch, around 12
- 1 small zucchini
- Garlic – 1 clove
- Mortadella – 40 grams
- Ricotta – 120 grams
- 1 lemon
- Basil – small bunch
- Ginger – a thumb sized piece
- Chicken or vegetable stock – 500 ml, home-made or a high quality bought one
- Olive oil
- Salt and black pepper
First of all, make the pasta dough so that it has some time to rest. Place the flour on a clean working surface and make a well in the middle. Add a pinch of salt and about a tablespoon of olive oil. Break the egg in the middle of the well and start combining it with the flour. Knead the pasta dough well until it does not stick to your hands anymore. If needed, add some flour when it is too sticky or a little bit of water if it would be too dry. Wrap into some plastic wrap and place in the fridge to rest.
Meanwhile, start preparing the filling. Take the asparagus and break the lower end of the stalk off where it snaps. Throw the lower part away, since this is the part that has started to become woody. Chop the stalks of six of the asparagus very finely. You can leave the tips of the asparagus aside. Mince the garlic and zest the skin of the lemon. Heat some olive oil in a small frying pan over a medium fire. Add the chopped asparagus and the garlic. Fry for around 5 minutes and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Chop the mortadella and the basil in small pieces and place in a bowl with the lemon zest and the fried asparagus. Mix the ricotta in as well, and check if you would like additional seasoning. Place the filling in the fridge until use.
Prepare the broth by pouring the stock into a pot. Peel the ginger and chop in small pieces. Add this to the stock with a tablespoon of lemon juice and slowly warm the stock over a low fire.
Chop the rest of the asparagus into pieces of around 2 centimeters, and set aside. Use a speed peeler to create thin, long ribbons out of the zucchini. You would need around 10 ribbons.
Now, it is time for the most time consuming work: making the tortellini. Take the pasta dough out of the fridge and divide into two parts. Create a flat sheet of pasta dough using a pasta machine or a rolling pin. The sheet of dough should be very thin, so that if you would blow along the side of the sheet it lifts up easily. Use a pasta cutter or (like I do) a small glass of around 8 cm in diameter to create circles out of the dough. Place a teaspoon of filling on top of each circle. Then fold the dough-circles in two, so they have the shape of little moons. If needed, use some water to make the sides stick properly. Then, take the moon and fold the two ends towards each other. I usually place my index finger in the middle, where the filling is, and use my both thumbs to bring the sides to each other and fold them to stick them together. Repeat this with all the pasta dough and filling.
Once done with folding the tortellini, bring the stock to a boil. Add the asparagus and boil them for around 6 or 7 minutes. They should be soft but still have some bite. Take the asparagus out and set aside. Add the tortellini to the broth and boil for 4 minutes. Divide the tortellini over two deep plates. Place the asparagus pieces in between the tortellini. Roll the zucchini ribbons into little tubes and place in between as well. Taste the stock, and see if any additional salt, pepper, or lemon is needed. Poor the stock through a sieve over the tortellini in both plates.
Garnish with some additional basil, and enjoy!