Few foods say “spring” like asparagus. Closely related to the lily family, which includes onions, garlic, daffodils and tulips, Asparagus officinalis, according to my beloved Oxford Companion to Food, was cultivated by the ancient Romans; Pliny the Elder ascribed it medicinal qualities—possibly, according to the book’s author, due to the distinctive (but harmless) odor it imparts to the urine of those who eat it. Indeed, “officinalis” translates to “of the dispensary.”
I don’t know that any doctors prescribe asparagus for specific ailments, but it is an excellent, low-calorie source of Vitamins K and A, and B-Complex vitamins such as Thiamin and Riboflavin. It also contains a goodly amount of folates and a veritable alphabet soup of anti-oxidants such as lutein, zeaxanthin, carotenes, and cryptoxanthins.
But really, the best part about asparagus is that it tastes good, has a beautiful green color, and signals the arrival of spring. I love it lightly steamed or roasted, with melted butter, a squeeze of fresh lemon and some chopped hard-boiled egg on top. But if I have a little more time, what I really love is cream of asparagus soup. For years I’ve used this wonderful, easy recipe from the New Moosewood Cookbook. It never fails as a crowd-pleaser—even if you’re just pleasing a crowd of one (yourself). It also freezes well. And it’s so thick that I recently discovered that in the unlikely event of any leftovers, even just a few tablespoons, you can repurpose it as a spread inside an omelet, perhaps bumped up with some sautéed mushrooms and onions, and a little feta, gouda or gruyere.
The original recipe calls for ½ tsp of dried tarragon, but I’m not a tarragon fan so I leave that out and let the dill shine through. I also add lemon juice to brighten the flavors. And I like to garnish the finished soup with chopped chives, as well as the asparagus tips the recipe calls for. Read on! And Happy Spring!
The soup takes about an hour to make, but you can be doing other things while it’s cooking.
2-1/2 lbs asparagus (the original recipe calls for just 2 lbs, but I find once I break off the tough ends I lose a lot)
1-1/2 Tbl butter
2 C chopped onion
1-1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbl flour
2 C water (or vegetable or chicken stock if you have some on hand); if you’re using stock you may want to cut back on the amount of salt you add)
2 C hot milk (I like whole milk, but low fat works, too)
2 tsp dried dill
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of one-half to one lemon, plus some lemon wedges for garnish
Chives for garnish
Wash the asparagus and break off the tough bottoms (if you bend the spears, they’ll naturally snap off where they should). Cut off the tips and set aside. Slice the remaining spears into 1-inch pieces. In a medium-sized pot, melt the butter, then add the onion, asparagus, and salt. Saute for about 10 minutes over medium heat, until the onions have softened and turned translucent.
Sprinkle in 2 Tbl of flour, stirring constantly. Lower the heat to the lowest setting possible, and keep cooking, stirring frequently, for another 5 to 8 minutes.
Add the water or stock, stirring as you add. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and let the mixture simmer for about 5 minutes before stirring in the remaining Tbl of flour. Incorporate that and then cook another 8 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
Meanwhile, in another saucepan or in the microwave, heat the milk, then, using an immersion blender, puree the soup with the milk. If you do not have an immersion blender (sometimes called a stick blender, pictured below), I strongly suggest you buy yourself one. They’re great because you can blend soups and sauces even when they’re hot, which you can’t do with a regular blender because the heat will cause the lid to pop off and your soup to splatter all over, resulting in a huge mess. (Sadly, I speak from experience; embarrassingly, I have done this more than once.) You can also use a regular blender or food processor, but you have to be very patient (not my strong suit) and wait for the soup to cool before you do. Also, if you’re going to do it that way, do it a little at a time.
Once the soup is pureed, add the dill and lemon juice, and salt and pepper (white pepper, if you have it) to taste.
Steam the reserved asparagus tips until just tender.
To serve, ladle the soup into bowls, then garnish with the asparagus tips, chopped chives, and wedges of lemon.