Sense of Home Kitchen
Asparagus, now there is a sure sign of spring. Around here wild asparagus has been starting to poke it's head out of the ground, but is is early and the weather turned a little cooler this week so although asparagus usually only takes a few days to pop up all the way, progress has been slow. It will be a another week or so before I can go foraging. In the meantime I have picked up some at the market, though it is not nearly as flavorful. I love to eat asparagus raw, it almost tastes like fresh peas to me, but you only get that really fresh taste from just picked asparagus. The asparagus I bought made an excellent soup though. I know, I know, I make too many soups. I can't help it, I think soup is comfort food.
Asparagus is a member of the lily family, as are onions, leeks, and garlic, all (except the lilies) are very tasty. According to the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board, Asparagus is a Greek word meaning stalk or shoot and it is believed that it was first cultivated 2500 years ago in Greece. The Greeks believed asparagus was a herbal medicine which could cure toothaches and prevent bee stings, not so sure about that, but it is high in Vitamin K, Vitamin A, several Vitamin Bs, and minerals. Plus, it tastes really good and has this interesting side effect.
I have time and again song the praises of making your own homemade chicken stock or broth. I didn't use to think it would matter all that much, but I am here to say it does. I may be "preaching to the choir" here, but once you try making your own you just can't go back to the purchased broth or stock. The above photo is stock from a chicken I baked just the night before I made this soup. I simply put a chicken in a pot along with a little water, onions, and small amount of salt and pepper. I covered the pot and baked it at 350 degrees F. for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, until the meat nearly fell off the bones. I reserved the meat for sandwiches and poured the stock into a bowl and stuck it into the refrigerator. Just before I used the stock I poured off the fat and was left with this lovely gelled packet of flavor that melted as soon as it reached the heat from the pan. Cooking the bones for so long is the reason the stock gelled so nice, for this recipe I used this cup of gelled stock and a quart of stock I canned last fall.
These custards make this soup seem a little fussy, but they taste wonderful. There is no need for cream in this "creamy" soup, because a custard placed in each bowl is like adding rich cream. I was a little nervous about the custards setting up and then slipping out of the ramekins as they should, but there was nothing to fear, all turned out beautifully. I even had some soup and custard left over and they slid right out the next day and, I swear, the soup was even better the second day.
Do not overlook the instructions in the recipe to blend only small amounts of soup at a time. Remember the soup is steamy hot and will create some pressure in the blender, too full and the lid is likely to fly off, spraying hot soup everywhere, possibly even on you. I put only a small amount in and then I held onto the blender lid with a towel, still one time it forced the lid up enough to spurt a little out.
Roasted Asparagus Soup with Blue Cheese Custards
~Sense of Home Kitchen, adapted from Gourmet, April 2002~
Roasting the asparagus sweetens it slightly and adds another layer of flavor to this delicious soup. Remember a dish is only as good as the sum of its parts so if at all possible use your own homemade chicken stock or broth. The richness and depth of flavor in homemade stock cannot be compared to store-bought and is worth the small amount of extra effort (instructions here). Stock can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for a day or frozen or canned and stored for longer.
This soup can be a meal in itself, however, for dinner guests this makes an excellent first course.
Makes 6 servings
Special equipment needed: Six (2 oz) ramekins
2 1/2 oz Blue Cheese, crumbled (about 1/2 cup)
1 1/2 cups half and half
1 whole large egg
2 large egg yolks
1/8 teaspoon salt
Pinch of white pepper
2 medium leeks, white and pale green parts only (1 1/4 cups, when finely chopped)
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 pounds asparagus, tough ends trimmed
5 cups low-sodium chicken stock (preferably homemade)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
To Roast Asparagus:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Wash and trim the tough end of the asparagus. Lay the asparagus in a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Roast uncovered in a preheated oven until tender, approximately 10 minutes. Cool. Remove the tips off of nine of the asparagus, then half each of the six tips lengthwise and reserve for garnish. Chop the remaining roasted asparagus into 2 inch pieces and reserve for soup.
Prepare six (2 oz) ramekins by buttering them very well so the custard will slip out easily after cooking, set aside.
In a small heavy saucepan, over moderate heat bring blue cheese and half and half just to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and steep, covered, 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
Set a tea kettle full of water on the stove and heat until it begins to boil. While the water is heating, pour steeped cream through a very fine sieve into a bowl, pressing lightly on cheese solids. Whisk together whole egg, yolks, salt and white pepper in another bowl, then add steeped cream in a stream, whisking until smooth. Divide among six well-buttered ramekins.
Set ramekins in a baking pan, carefully pour just boiled water into the pan until the water reaches a third to half up the ramekins, place on middle rack in preheated oven and bake in the hot water bath until centers of custards are completely set, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer ramekins to a rack and cool 5 minutes.
Make soup while cream steeps and custards bake:
Cut ends off the leeks, leaving only the white and pale green parts, separate layers and wash in a bowl of cold water, then lift out, drain well, and finely chop the leeks until you have 1 1/4 cups. Sauté leeks, red onion, white pepper, and salt in butter in a 4- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring, until leeks and onion are softened, about 3 minutes. Add chopped, roasted asparagus and chicken stock to the soup pot and simmer covered for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add lemon juice.
Purée soup in SMALL BATCHES in a blender until smooth. CAUTION: overfilling the blender with hot liquid will create a pressure and cause some of the hot soup to burst out even with the blender cover on. Transfer soup to a large bowl, taste for seasoning, add salt and pepper, if needed.
Serve soup with custards:
Working with 1 custard at a time, run a thin knife around the edge of each to loosen it, then invert a soup bowl over the ramekin and invert custard into bowl. Repeat with remaining custards. Ladle soup around custards and garnish with reserved asparagus tips, three on top of each custard.
Soup can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, uncovered, then refrigerate. Reheat slowly while making the custards.
Sense of Home Kitchen / Recipes / Soup