One of the harbingers of spring food is asparagus; when we see it popping up at the farmer's markets, we know what season it is.
A versatile vegetable, it can be grilled, blanched, batter-fried, wrapped with prosciutto, slathered with Polonaise sauce, pickled, and many more. It comes pencil-thin, or as thick as a thumb. There are white, purple, and wild varieties.
Select spears that are firm and have tightly closed tips. Asparagus is best eaten right away, but will stay fresh in a plastic bag in the crisper for up to three days. After washing each spear individually under cold water, snap off the hard, woody sections of the stems at the base. Thin spears should be left unpeeled. Some people like to peel thicker spears, but we've found it's a matter of personal preference; try them both ways and see which style you like best.
Asparagus is a perennial and can produce for up to 15 years, tolerates drought and is happy under most soil conditions, making it a low-maintenance plant for home vegetable gardens.
Leslie Land, who took the wonderful photo above, shared with us her recipe for asparagus soup. Thanks, Leslie!
Cream of Asparagus Soup
1 ½ pounds of asparagus ( roughly 2 bunches) is usually enough to make 4 servings of soup and 4 servings of asparagus-as-veg. , but the recipe works with whatever quantity you've got.
sweet onion such as Vidalia
basmati or other flavorful white rice
heavy cream, preferably not ultra pasteurized although at this point that's wishful thinking in a lot of places
1. Break the asparagus spears where they break naturally and set the tough ends aside. Divide the tender ends into 2 piles, one a little more than twice as big as the other. Refrigerate the larger pile until you want it for vegetable purposes. Chop the smaller pile into 1 inch chunks and set aside.
2. Trim off and discard any really hard white ends of the tough ends. Chop the remainder into ½ inch chunks and measure into a large saucepan.
3. Add 1/2 cup coarsely chopped onion, 1 ½ tablespoons rice, and 2 cups water per cup of ends.
4. Cover and cook over low heat until the vegetables are soft and the rice is fully cooked, about 40 minutes. Add the chopped tender asparagus, recover the pan and cook until vegetables are very soft and the rice is a fluffy mush, about 20 minutes more.
5. Put the whole works through a food mill into a clean saucepan ( for hot soup) or a heatproof bowl (for cold). Stir in 1/3 cup cream for each cup of asparagus ends. Reheat the hot. Chill the cold. Taste. Add salt as needed. That's it.
(Image and recipe: Leslie Land)