Americans enjoy asparagus most when it’s green and skinny. Europeans like it that way too, but they go gaga for asparagus that’s snow white and thick as a thumb. In fact, during the growing season, there are restaurants in Germany and Spain that devote whole menus to it. The alabaster edible inspires a lot of passion.
White asparagus is tender and mild, the green-grass flavor you're used to is absent. In its place there’s a fine floral aroma. Subtle and mild, with a texture as soft as squash, white asparagus is often served steamed, topped with Hollandaise sauce or vinaigrette.
(If you’re curious, the white color doesn’t come from a specific breed of asparagus; it’s the result of a lot of manual labor. As the asparagus grows, farmers mound dirt up around it to keep the sun out. It lives underground and reaches maturity in darkness. The sun therefore never ignites the chlorophyll that would turn it green.)
White asparagus’s season is diabolically short and it doesn’t travel well—two conditions that have historically conspired to keep it for locals only. There is a canning tradition though. One of the best sources we’ve found for tinned white asparagus is in Spain’s Navarre valley (the region where famed piquillo peppers are also farmed).
Each tin makes a side dish for two or three people. You can serve the asparagus warmed with a simple butter sauce or at room temperature alongside some nice cured ham.