When buying asparagus, choose large spears with tightly closed buds. The very thin spears that gained popularity years ago when “nouvelle cuisine” featured all kinds of baby vegetables are actually inferior to thicker stalks and are produced by less mature or healthy plants.
Healthy plants produce stalks at an amazing rate, and these are very tender with proportionally less fibrous skin than the thinner spears.
Using the water in which the asparagus is boiled captures all of this flavor.
If you must store asparagus, refrigerate the spears upright in a glass in an inch or so of water covered with a moist towel, but they are best eaten the day they are picked.
Remember not to overcook asparagus. Flavor this vegetable with butter or olive oil, adding lemon juice or a light sprinkling of Parmesan cheese for variety. When we’ve had our fill of fresh asparagus cooked this way, I’ll make soup that can be served either hot or cold.
Many recipes call for chicken stock and include other ingredients such as potato, egg yolks, or rice, but I prefer to use minimal additions, permitting the fresh “green” flavor to shine. Using the water in which the asparagus is boiled captures all of this flavor.
I usually serve this simple puréed soup as is, but adding a tablespoon of sautéed pancetta and asparagus adds a new dimension.
Makes 4 servings:
- 2 pounds asparagus, washed, with 1–2 inches of base removed. (Peeling the lower third of the stalks permits use of all except the very base.)
- 6 cups water
- 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped shallot, leek, or sweet onion
- 1 1/2 tablespoons flour
- 1/2 cup cream, light or heavy (optional)
- Kosher or sea salt and fresh ground pepper
Optional additions to hot soup:
- 4 stalks asparagus, washed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon chopped pancetta or bacon
- 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
Bring 6 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan and add 1 tablespoon salt.
Roughly chop asparagus and put into boiling water. Boil for 8–10 minutes. (For soup, asparagus is cooked longer than for table presentations.)
While asparagus is cooking, heat a medium sauté pan over medium heat and sauté shallots until soft but not browned. Sprinkle flour over shallots and cook, stirring for 2–3 minutes to remove the raw flour taste. Set aside.
When asparagus is softened, remove with a slotted spoon and place in a blender or food processor, along with 1 1/2 cups of the cooking water and the shallot mixture. Process or blend until very smooth—if using a blender, hold a towel over the top and start at slow speed to avoid splashing the hot liquid.
When thoroughly blended, return mixture to the liquid in the saucepan. (Strain if you want a very smooth soup—I do not bother). Whisk to combine and add cream, if using. Correct seasoning and serve. If serving later, cool, cover, and refrigerate; do not add cream until soup is reheated. To serve cold, add cream immediately before serving and check seasoning because cold soup may require more salt.If you wish to add the asparagus pieces and pancetta, heat oil and pancetta in a small sauté pan over medium heat and cook until pancetta is lightly browned. Add asparagus pieces and cook for a minute or two until asparagus is bright green. Sprinkle with cheese off heat and add a tablespoon of the mixture to each bowl.
Charlie Burke is a freelance writer, organic farmer, and cook living in the New England area. For more recipes visit: www.TheHeartofNewEngland.com
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