The story starts in my house a couple of weeks ago where I had an animated discussion with my German friends on ‘The King of Vegetables’. Their love for Asparagus was evident as they reminisced about harvesting the succulent stem in their vegetable patches back home. In Spring, Asparagus is eaten almost daily, reverently, greedily until they’ve combed through the last standing elegant feathered head. Most of Europe shares this fascination with Asparagus, so much so, that King Louis the XIV officially crowned it ‘The King of Vegetables’. Chef Vittorio has the same adulation and has been instrumental in influencing Chef Sasha to craft an Asparagus Menu for Spring. The resultant degustation is a journey across Italian landscapes made unique by impressive wine pairings.
Ottimo was going all out to impress – White and Green Asparagus cooked in a variety of ways, including two desserts! While the Green Asparagus is the widely available variety, the White Asparagus is highly coveted and commands a premium price. The latter is a cultivated shoot – they ‘blanch’ the chlorophyll by covering the stem with soil as it grows so that it is not exposed to sunlight resulting in produce which is less bitter and more tender. Almost all the dishes in the Asparagus Festival will give you a medley of both the varieties.
Conspicuous in its absence was an Asparagus Soup – but why resort to the obvious when Chef Sasha had dreamed up more interesting uses for the vegetable. The Tartara Asparagi, Pomodori secchi e burrata consisted of an Asparagus tartare that sat pretty on a bed of luscious Burrata and Sun-dried Tomatoes. Or the absolutely beautiful marriage of Asparagus, Saffron, Parmesan coulis and white truffle oil in the Asparagus gratinati alla Milanese. Now that I am exposed to this royal, elitist version of Asparagus with Hollandaise sauce – life will never be the same!
Another stunning entrée was the Millefoglie di asparagi e capesante – thyme scented asparagus interspersed with perfectly cooked scallop discs. Seafood and Asparagus complement each other charmingly with their mild flavors and delicate composition.
We savored some Gavi 2014 by Ricossa with our entrees. This Italian white wine from the Piedmont region has a delicate fruity taste with a pronounced acidity which was a perfect match with the seafood and creamy sauces that accompanied the asparagus.
For the maincourses we moved to the most popular red wine variety in Italy – Chianti. This ruby red Sangiovese from the house of Ruffino made for easy drinking with its spicy & plum notes.
One of my favorites of the evening was the Asparagus Tortelli. The Tortelli di asparagi con crema al parmigiano was exquisite not just because of the moreish tortelli stuffed with ricotta and asparagus but because of the multi layered broth of cream, parmesan and herbs that begged for an encore. A must try in my books.
Another first for me, a crumbed fried whole Soft shell Crab with Truffle Oil served with creamy polenta and Green Asparagus Spears – the Asparagi moleche e polenta was magnifico!
My apprehension at trying an Asparagus dessert is based on my childhood fears or as I like to call it ‘Carrot cake syndrome’ – is mommy putting a carrot in a cake to make me eat it?! However, my fears here were unfounded as I tried a marvelous Crème Caramel with white Asparagus and berries and an even more enticing White Asparagus and Ricotta tarte with Green Asparagus foam. If I had to pick a clear winner – it was the latter. The ricotta had delicate bits of Asparagus embedded that gave a sweet crunch to the tarte and the alien green asparagus foam was a delicately sweet finish. This one actually reminded me of an elegant Japanese dessert in its composition.
The Spring Asparagus Sojurn is on at Ottimo from the 10th to the 20th of May. A wonderful chance to sample some elegant creations of Europe’s darling vegetable. Prices for the limited edition menu are from INR 600 – 2550, exclusive of taxes.
1 Residency Road, Bangalore 560025.
Call +91 80 22119898 for reservations. Open only for Dinner.
Parking: Valet Available || Cost: Rs. 4500/++ for a meal for two with drinks.