The Heart of New England
Fresh Asparagus Soup                                                            
By Charlie Burke
The unexpected first spear of asparagus in our garden was beheaded by a hose dragged across the
oldest of our three beds but was soon followed by several more, and we look forward to several weeks
of this special spring crop. I avoid buying out-of-season asparagus -- who knows where it comes from
or what chemicals have been applied? The flavor of fresh, locally grown spears is vastly superior and
signals the true arrival of spring.

Choose large spears with tightly closed buds. The very thin spears which 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. 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.

We previously described the basic cooking of
asparagus and little needs to be done to enjoy its flavor.
Remember not to overcook asparagus; flavor it 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 which 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 pureed
soup as is, but adding a tablespoon of sautéed pancetta and asparagus adds a new dimension.

Four 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
½ cup chopped shallot, leek or sweet onion
1 ½ tablespoon flour
½ cup cream, light or heavy (optional)
Kosher or sea salt and fresh ground pepper

Optional addition to hot soup:
4 stalks asparagus, washed and cut into ½ 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 sauce pan and add 1 tablespoon salt.  Chop asparagus in
large pieces 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 ½ cup 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 to the liquid in the sauce pan (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.

This preparation is quite easy, and preserves the intense flavor of fresh local asparagus, which should
be available at farm stands and farmers’ markets over the weeks ahead. Buy this great local taste of
spring and see how it outshines those “foreign” crops!

About the author: Charlie Burke is an  organic farmer and avid cook; with his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows
certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather Hill Farm in Sanbornton, New Hampshire.  
The Heart of New England
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