Asparagus, a cultivated member of the lily family, is a universally popular vegetable, available for a brief window in the spring. For maximum flavor, it is best eaten as quickly as possible after it is harvested. It was clearly the main feature at this week farmer’s market. Some prefer the thin spears while others think the thicker ones are better tasting. Me? I love it all! Green, purple or white I have been known to consume many pounds while it is in season. After the local season passes, however, I only eat it pickled (mostly as a Bloody Mary garnish) because what is available later is shipped from afar and always disappoints. I look at it longingly in anticipation of next year’s harvest but resist the temptation trying to stay as true as possible to eating fresh and local.
Asparagus is a very versatile vegetable and finds its way into many dishes in my kitchen, such as, frittata, stir fry, omelets and soups. My favorite preparation, however, is either steamed or grilled and served simply dressed with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. This allows the true flavor of the season to sing and be heard. Masking its beauty with hollandaise or other sauces, as it is often seen, seems a bit sacrilegious.
The following recipe may seem like a contradiction to the above but it uses the entire stalk including the woody end, which is normally cut or snapped off and discarded, maximizing the full effect of the asparagus. The earthiness is then highlighted at the very end by another of spring’s gifts, tarragon. Think of it as the crowning glory.
Here is how it goes down.
FRESH & “CREAMY” ASPARAGUS SOUP w/ TARRAGON
Recipe by Sara Moulton
1 ½ lbs. fresh asparagus (about 1 ½ bunches)
1 ¾ c chicken stock (or vegetable)
1 ¾ c water
¼ c extra-virgin olive oil
½ c thinly sliced yellow onion
1 small Yukon Gold potato (about 6oz), peeled and thinly sliced
½t kosher salt, or to taste (I use sea salt)
2t fresh lemon juice
Ground black pepper
Chopped fresh tarragon, to serve
Croutons, to serve
- Cut or snap off the bottom woody ends of the asparagus, rinsing if dirty and reserve them. Cut off the tips of the asparagus and set them aside. Chop the remaining stems into 1-inch lengths.
- In a medium saucepan, bring the stock and water to a boil. Add the asparagus tips and simmer for until they crisp tender, 1 to 3 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove them to a bowl. Set aside.
- Add the reserved woody ends to the liquid, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a second medium saucepan, over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
- Pour the asparagus stock through a strainer into the saucepan with the onion, pressing the ends to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the ends.
- Add the potatoes and salt to the saucepan and simmer until they are tender, about 4-5 minutes. Add the chopped asparagus stems and bring to a boil and simmer until they are barely blanched, 1 minute for thin stalks, 2 minutes for medium and 3 minutes for thick.
- Working in batches, transfer the mixture to a blender and carefully blend until smooth, transferring the soup as it is pureed to the empty saucepan.
- When completed, stir in the reserved asparagus tips and the lemon juice. Season with additional salt and pepper and continue cooking until heated through.
- Divide between serving bowls and top each portion with tarragon and croutons.
The title implies the use of dairy but as you can see, the “creaminess” is actually derived by using one lone Yukon Gold potato, which also serves as a thickener. Blending it all to a puree gives it a smooth creamy texture as well. Don’t omit the fresh lemon juice for it is that pop of brightness that really makes it come alive.
Chef Sara Moulton, the creator of this soup, says peeling the asparagus is not necessary for this recipe. The skins of the asparagus are necessary as they help give the soup its vivid green color. Her advice to retain the color, is to barely cook the stems before pureeing and to reheat only briefly afterwards. In general, the longer a green vegetable cooks, the grayer it becomes.
Thank you, Sara, for your tips and for sharing this beautiful recipe. Its vibrant color is second only to its deep delicious flavor. We learned that whether your preference is for thick or thin stalks or the snap or cut method of trimming, it matters not. Using the freshest asparagus you can find is the key to this soup’s success. So check out your local markets and continue to spread the love, one seasonal dish at a time. By the way, this soup is equally good hot or cold. It’s a spring thing. Until next time, love from my kitchen to yours. Jeanne