Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Asparagus Leek Soup
Fresh, spring asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables. Asparagus in the winter that is shipped from somewhere south of the equator may be one of my least favorite vegetables. While the comparison may sound dramatic, the difference in taste between local, fresh asparagus and off-season, imported asparagus really is tremendous. Plus, asparagus is much less expensive when purchased during its growing season. I spend less AND I get the GOOD stuff? Not too much of a sacrifice, huh?
Not only does asparagus have a wonderful grassy, mildly herbaceous flavor, but it is a great source of folate (six stalks contains almost half of the adult recommended daily intake) and potassium and is high in antioxidants. And it can be super easy to prepare. One of my most favorite, and simple, ways of cooking asparagus is roasting it with a little olive oil, salt and pepper in a 450 degree oven until it just starts to brown and the tips start to become crunchy. But last night I decided to turn it into soup using some gorgeous leeks that I also found yesterday at my Brooklyn farmers market. And, unless you are highly averse to cumin, don't skip adding that spice. It adds a fantastic and unusual dimension to the soup. Bon appetit!
Asparagus Leek Soup
2 sliced leeks (use white and pale green parts only)
3 minced garlic cloves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 bunches of asparagus (about 2 pounds), sliced into 1" pieces
3 cups nettle stock* or vegetable stock
1/3 cup half-and-half
salt & pepper to taste
Wash sliced leeks by soaking in a large bowl of cold water for several minutes. Pull leeks from water and dispose of gritty water. Repeat this process to make sure leeks have been rid of all dirt and grit. Heat olive oil and butter in a large pot . Add leeks and garlic and saute over med-low heat until leeks are soft, about 8 min. Add cumin, asparagus and nettle or vegetable stock. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer until asparagus is soft, about 15 mins. Transfer to a blender (or use an immersion blender) and puree. (If using a blender, puree the soup in batches. Be sure to never fill the blender over half full with hot liquid and hold a kitchen towel over the blender top.) Transfer puree back to pot. Stir in half-and-half (taking care not to bring the soup to a boil... Boiling will break, or separate, the soup). Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve topped with fresh chives.
*The nettle stock was left over from yesterday's post on Stinging Nettle Pesto. If you don't have nettles on hand, not to fret, a vegetable stock will work very nicely in this soup as well.
I served this with some crusty sourdough bread and the following salad:
Spinach Salad with Pancetta and Fried Egg
3 cups spinach
1/4 cup pancetta, diced
1 minced garlic clove
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper
2 farm fresh eggs
1/2 tablespoon butter
Saute diced pancetta over med heat until pancetta is crispy and fat has rendered (about 8 mins). Using a slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to paper towel to drain. For dressing, place minced garlic in large bowl and pour drippings from the pancetta pan over garlic. Add red wine vinegar and dijon mustard. Whisk in olive oil and add salt and pepper to taste. Heat butter in a non-stick skillet over med heat. When foam subsides, crack eggs into small bowls (to check for quality) and them pour into pan. Lower heat and cook for about 5 mins until white is set and yolk is still runny. Season the top of eggs with salt and pepper. Place spinach in bowl with dressing and toss with fingers, making sure all leaves are coated. Pull spinach from bowl, leaving excess dressing at the bottom of bowl and plate spinach. Top each plate with a fried egg and crispy pancetta.