Bassano del Grappa: white asparagus territory

Delicious and good for you, asparagus is the spring vegetable par excellence. White, green, cultivated or wild, asparagus is grown in many parts of Italy, but especially in the north. And one of the best known asparagus-growing areas is around Bassano, in the province of Vicenza. Exploring the places where asparagus is grown, and trying all those dishes it features in, is a pleasantly unusual theme for a weekend spring break in the Veneto region, famous for its history and great food.

Asparagi - gentile concessione dell’Archivio di Vicenza è Asparagi - gentile concessione dell’Archivio di Vicenza è The area around Bassano is one of the best-known in the whole of Italy for its white asparagus, thanks to its perfect microclimate and habitat, which yield straight, juicy spears with very little stringiness and a superb taste. Much sought-after and appreciated, in spring asparagus reigns supreme on local tables. Bassano asparagus PDO is white and very tender, so little goes to waste, and it has a bittersweet flavour which is different from other varieties. It is protected by a watchdog body, a consortium of all the producers from the ten parishes where it is traditionally grown, who set the strict criteria for their product. Spears have to be 18 to 22 cm long with a minimum central diameter of 11mm and they have to be well-formed, with compact heads.

Asparagus is usually sold in bunches of 1 or 1.5kg (although the regulations allow it to be sold in bunches of anything from 0.5 to 4kg), tied with a willow strip with the PDO brand label attached guaranteeing authenticity. The label is green and has a stylised bunch of asparagus and a drawing of the famous Bassano bridge, each one carries a series of numbers identifying the producer and the day the product was picked and bundled. To protect the genuine local product from imitations, and to promote it, a Confraternity of the Bassano PDO White Asparagus was founded in 2010.

These “noble spears”, which were first mentioned in a Venetian chronicle in 1534, were appreciated not only in the area where they were grown, but also in Venice, where asparagus was sold in the Rialto market and was served at the Doge’s table. It is still sought after today, because it is delicious and easy to prepare (just boiled, or even better, steamed, in a little salted water and served with olive oil and salt, or as the locals often eat it, with a sauce made from pounded hard-boiled eggs amalgamated with olive oil, salt and a little vinegar). But it can also play a part in more elaborate recipes, which local chefs are expert at. One favourite is asparagus risotto, where the asparagus either features alone or, in some versions, with other ingredients, such as prawns. Because it is so tender this type of asparagus can also be eaten raw, finely sliced for example “in carpaccio” with local PDO Asiago cheese, another Vicenza speciality.

Given its low calorie count (just 24 Kcal per 100 g of fresh asparagus) and healthy content of precious micro-elements and vitamins, Bassano White Asparagus is ideal for diets and light dishes. It has excellent depurative and diuretic qualities, stimulating liver and kidney drainage and the digestion thanks to its high fibre content.

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