I call this soup "triple threat asparagus" because the flavors are layered in a stock based upon trimmings, roasted fresh asparagus for maximum flavor and color, and a finishing garnish of roasted asparagus tips. A perfect starter for your St. Patrick's Day feast, this will whet the palate for corned beef and potatoes like no other. Adapted from the soon-to-be-released The French Cook: Soupes and Daubes (Gibbs Smith, September 2014).
Soupe d’Asperge Cremeux (Triple Threat Creamy Asparagus Soup)
(Makes 6 to 8 servings)
Special equipment needed: China cap or fine colander
A shining example of French method and frugality, this purely asparagus soup uses every part of the tender spring spear, and precious little else. A quick asparagus stock is assembled with the tougher outer-layer peels and feet of the spears. Next, the tender asparagus themselves are roasted to intensify flavor and are added near the very end of cooking to maximize color and texture. Leeks provide a bit of onion brightness and a tiny splash of cream at the end is the finishing touch on this exquisite, brilliant green and slightly textured soup.
2 large bunches (about 40 spears) fresh green asparagus, rinsed, tough foot (cut about 1” above the bottom) removed and peeled, starting about 1” below the tip to the bottom. Reserve the removed feet and peelings together in a small bowl. Reserve the peeled asparagus separately.
For the asparagus stock:
1 onion, halved, peeled and thinly sliced.
2 stalks celery, rinsed and thinly sliced.
7 cups water.
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt.
5 sprigs fresh thyme bundled together with kitchen string.
Reserved asparagus peelings and trimmings.
For roasting the asparagus:
Reserved, prepped asparagus spears.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt.
Generous dash freshly ground black pepper.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter.
1 shallot, peeled, halved and finely chopped.
2 leeks, tough green leaves removed to 1” above white (save the green leaves in the freezer for later use in a stock), quartered lengthwise, well-rinsed, and finely chopped.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour.
Reserved roasted asparagus spears, cut into 1/4”-lengths (put aside 1/4 cup for garnish.)
3 tablespoons whipping or heavy cream.
1 teaspoon Dry Vermouth.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 450F. In a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven or similarly sized soup pot, combine onion, celery, water, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, fresh thyme bundle, and asparagus feet and peel trimmings. Bring up to a boil over high heat, reduce to a mild simmer over medium/medium low and cook uncovered, 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, to roast the asparagus, on a full, edged baking sheet, toss the prepped asparagus spears in the extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and arrange in a single layer. Place on the middle rack of the preheated oven, and roast for 20 minutes, or until tender and just starting to take on a little golden color. Toss once midway through cooking. Set aside. When cool enough to handle, cut the asparagus into 1/4”-lengths, reserve.
Strain the finished stock through a China cap or fine colander into a large bowl, pressing against the solids to extract flavor. Discard the solids. Keep the strained stock off to the side. Rinse the Dutch oven or soup pot if needed. In the same pot, melt the butter over medium heat. When melted, add the shallot, leeks and seasonings. Stir to coat and cook for 5 minutes, or until just softened. Sprinkle evenly with the flour and stir to coat. Cook for one minute. Add the reserved stock, stirring. Bring to a boil over high and reduce to a gentle simmer over medium/medium low. Cook for 20 minutes uncovered. Remove from the heat. Add all but 1/4 cup of the reserved asparagus spears to the pot. Puree with an emulsion blender, traditional blender or food processor until chunky smooth. In the same pot, bring the puree up to a low boil over high heat. Stir in the cream and the dry vermouth. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve the soup very hot in individual bowls, each garnished with five spear tips. (Note: The soup and garnish can be made ahead and refrigerated or frozen. However, only add the cream, vermouth and final seasonings just before re-heating and serving.)