Eric Akis: Go green by tucking into asparagus

Two soups — one hot, one cold — are tasty ways to use vegetable that is coming into season in B.C.

Eric Akis

I enjoy all kinds of soup, but my favourite at this time of year has to be asparagus. This puréed, vibrant-green, silky-on-the-palate soup tastes and looks like spring.

Over the years, I’ve written about different versions, and now I’ve added two more to my repertoire.

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My first recipe is a roasted asparagus soup, where slices of the vegetable, and some onion and garlic, are tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, then cooked in a hot oven for 30 minutes.

Roasting the asparagus lightly chars it and gives it a slightly smoky, more concentrated flavour. The asparagus and other ingredients are then simmered in stock for a while before being blended.

At that point, you have quite a nice soup, but as celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse would say, to take things up a notch, I decided to top bowls of it with nuggets of herb-flecked fresh cheese and toasted walnuts. If you serve the soup with a sliced baguette or other good bread, it will make a nice lunch or dinner.

As noted in the recipe, the herb-flecked fresh cheese could be Boursin, soft goat cheese or fromage frais, which are all sold at many supermarkets. All have herbs mixed into them, adding a nice flavour to the soup.

My second recipe is my adaptation of the famous cold soup vichyssoise. To make it, I replaced half the leeks I would normally use in this soup with asparagus. When all ingredients are simmered, blended and well chilled, you end up with something quite divine that will make you wonder why you don’t have cold soup more often.

If you want to use B.C.-grown asparagus to make either soup, it’s coming into season and will be available at some local food stores and farmers markets. You can also buy it direct from farms. Go to the Southern Vancouver Island Direct Farm Marketing Association website, islandfarmfresh.com, click on menu, and search asparagus.

Roasted Asparagus Soup With Fresh Cheese and Walnuts

This is a smooth and vibrant green soup topped with tangy, herb-flecked cheese and rich nuts.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: about 45 minutes

Makes: four servings

1 lb. asparagus, tough lower parts of each spear trimmed or snapped off (see Note 1)

1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced

2 large garlic cloves, sliced

2 Tbsp olive oil

• salt and white pepper, to taste

1 medium to large (about 300 gram) baking potato, peeled and cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch cubes

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock or broth

2 to 3 Tbsp coarsely chopped fresh parsley

• fresh cheese with herbs in it, such as Boursin, soft goat cheese or fromage frais, to taste

1/3 cup walnut pieces, lightly toasted (see Note 2)

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Slice asparagus, widthwise, into two-inch pieces and set them on the baking sheet. Add the onion, garlic and oil, season with salt and pepper and toss to combine.

Spread vegetables out so they are sitting in a single layer. Roast 30 minutes, or until asparagus is lightly charred-looking and tender.

Set the asparagus, onion and garlic in a medium pot. Pour in the stock (or broth) and add the potatoes.

Set the pot over medium-high heat and bring the mixture to a gentle simmer, lowering heat as needed to maintain that simmer.

Simmer soup until potatoes are quite tender, about 10 minutes. Mix in the parsley and then purée the soup in a food processor or blender, or in the pot with an immersion (hand) blender. Return the soup to a simmer, then taste and season with salt and pepper, as needed.

Ladle the soup into bowls. Top each bowl with some of the cheese, spooning or crumbling it on, and some walnuts, and then serve.

Note 1: You can save tough lower parts of the asparagus spears to simmer in a vegetable stock, or compost them.

Note 2: To toast walnuts, place them in a non-stick skillet and set over medium heat. Heat, swirling the pan from time to time, until aromatic and lightly toasted, about three to four minutes.

Vichyssoise with Asparagus

This version of the famous cold soup sees half the leeks normally used replaced with asparagus. To ensure it has a bright, palate-awakening taste, it’s best when served icy cold. I like to serve this soup to start a fancy spring lunch or dinner.

Preparation time: 20 minutes, plus chilling time

Cooking time: about 25 minutes

Makes: about 5 cups (4 to 6 servings)

1/2 lb asparagus, tough lower parts of each spear trimmed or snapped off (see Note 1)

1 cup thinly sliced leek, white and very pale green parts only (see Note 2)

1 medium to large (about 300 gram) baking potato, peeled and cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 tsp dried tarragon

4 cups chicken or vegetable stock or broth

• salt and white pepper to taste

1/3 cup sour cream or whipping cream

2 to 3 tsp snipped fresh chives, or 1 green onion, very thinly sliced

Slice asparagus, widthwise, into one-inch pieces. Set asparagus, leek, potato, tarragon and stock (or broth) in a medium pot. Set the pot over medium-high heat and bring soup to a gentle simmer, lowering the heat as needed to maintain that gentle simmer.

Simmer soup until the vegetables are very, very tender, about 20 minutes. Purée the soup in a food processor or blender, or right in the pot with an immersion (hand) blender, until it’s ultra smooth (Eric’s options). Blend in the sour cream or whipping cream. Taste the soup and season it with salt and white pepper, as needed.

Pour soup into a large heatproof bowl or jug. Cool the soup to room temperature, then cover and chill in the refrigerator at least four hours, or overnight.

Just before serving, taste the soup again and add additional salt and pepper as needed. Ladle the soup into chilled bowls, sprinkle with chives or green onion, and serve.

Note 1: You can save tough lower parts of the asparagus spears to simmer in a vegetable stock, or compost them.

Note 2: One small to medium leek should yield enough of the white and pale green part needed for this recipe. Save the darker green parts for stock.

Eric’s options: If your soup is not perfectly smooth after blending it, you could whisk, push and strain it through a fine sieve.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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