Monday, April 9, 2012

A Souper Easter Celebration: Asparagus Style

Easter dinner can present a challenge for those who preach the benefits of eating local. While all around me, the markets and green grocers are showing off their bountiful displays of artichokes, mushrooms, spring onions, and asparagus, my CSA share is presenting me with more turnips, potatoes, and when I'm lucky, kale and spinach. Good things, yes, but right now I want a big helping of the tastes of the coming season, not more of what I"ve been enjoying all winter.

So, I figure, it's the holiday, why not indulge? And so we did. Big globe artichokes from California were trimmed, blanched, and sauteed in olive oil and garlic! Mushrooms of various types and sizes were sauteed and turned into sauce for veal chops--at least those were locally and humanely-- raised by Tim Rocha of Kellie Brook Farm in Greenland, NH. Heron Pond Farm of Hampton Falls' potatoes were sliced thin and combined with leeks in a cheese-filled potato gratin. But there was still all that asparagus calling my name. My sister Robin suggested an asparagus soup. Perfection!

We had some homemade chicken stock in the freezer and a bottle of  Brookford Farm buttermilk in the fridge, which seemed like it would be a lighter, tangier substitute for cream. All we needed were some of those nice spring onions!                         

To prepare the soup, I reserved the asparagus tips, snapped off the bottoms and cut the remaining stalks into inch-long pieces. The onions were chopped and then sweated in a little butter over low heat for 25 minutes. Next, I poured in the stock and the asparagus stalk pieces and simmered until the vegetables were soft. Then, I put the soup in the blender -- in batches, of course -- and blended until smooth.

When I was ready to serve the soup, I spooned it into a sauce pan, added the buttermilk, and combined. Lastly, I chopped the asparagus tips, sauteed them briefly and sprinkled them on top of each bowl. Finally, I added some fresh-snipped chives from the garden for a delicious start to a spring-inspired meal.

I'm already looking forward to having this soup again when the local asparagus is in. Then, I'll serve it cold -- with a little topping of creme fraiche.

Cream of Asparagus Soup 
Serves 6 as an appetizer

2 c. chopped yellow onions
4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1  qt. chicken stock, preferably homemade
1  lbs. asparagus
1/4 to 1/2 c. buttermilk, depending on how thick you want the soup
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Chives for a garnish

1. Melt the butter in a heavy 4-quart pot and simmer the onions over low heat, stir frequently, until very soft and golden, about 25 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.

2. Snap off the ends of the asparagus, then trim the tips and reserve. Cut remaining stalks into 1-inch pieces. Add to the chicken stock and onions, and simmer until soft.

3. Blend soup in small batches in a blender or food processor until smooth. (Be careful as this is very hot!)
Soup can be made to this point and refrigerated until ready to serve, later in the day.

4. Pour soup into a large saucepan and add the buttermilk. Stir over low heat until blended. Add salt and pepper to taste.

5. Chop the asparagus tops into 1/4" pieces. Sauteed briefly until just cooked. Pour soup into serving bowls, top with asparagus tips and chives, and serve.