Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Asparagus Soup

With the weather rapidly vacillating between unseasonably warm and downright frigid, it's been harder than usual to eat according to the weather this spring. You might seek warm and cozy comfort food one day and light and breezy fare the next, so it was anyone's guess what the best choice for dinner might be on any given day. Despite these wild fluctuations, Mother Nature has still decided to reward us with all the trappings of a proper spring dinner, like ramps, rhubarb, spinach, and asparagus. Asparagus soup is a nice bridge between the spring extremes of the upper Midwest, imbued with both the pure flavor of spring and the ability to warm you from the inside out. Like many spring vegetable soups, this would be lovely warm, at room temperature, or perhaps even chilled, new nuances of the flavor emerging as the temperature changes. Pureed vegetable soups may seem boring to some, but when you get the freshest, local produce, each bite is bursting with flavor, a pure expression of time and place. A few simple additions take this beyond the most fundamental recipe - flecks of just-cooked spinach add a fresh element to the cooked veggies and the punch of heat from the red pepper flakes wakes your palate, making every flavor more vibrant. This soup should also freeze well, secreting away a taste of spring as we move into summer if you know you'll find yourself longing for seasons past in the dog days of summer.

Asparagus Soup
adapted from Martha Stewart
serves 4

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, thinly sliced lengthwise or 1 small onion, thinly sliced
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound asparagus, trimmed, chopped, 12 to 16 tips reserved
4 cups homemade chicken stock or store-bought low-sodium canned chicken or vegetable broth, or water
1 cup loosely packed spinach leaves

1. In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add shallot, red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are tender and just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.

2. Add chopped asparagus, and cook for 1 minute. Stir in broth and 1 cup water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer; continue cooking until asparagus is tender, about 15 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, prepare and ice-water bath. Fill a medium saucepot with water and bring to a boil. Add salt, return to a boil, and add asparagus tips. Cook until just tender. Transfer asparagus tips to ice-water bath; let cool about 1 minute. Drain and set aside.

4. Remove from heat; add spinach. Using an immersion blender, puree soup to desired consistency. Return to heat and cook until heated through; season with salt and pepper. Divide soup evenly between 4 bowls, garnish with asparagus tips, and serve immediately.

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