Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wonderful Asparagus Soup

One of the great joys of living here in the Languedoc and having Carcassonne market just two minutes down the road is locally grown asparagus in mid-March, a good month or more earlier than I could ever get hold of local asparagus in the UK and earlier than most parts of France if reports from friends around the country are anything to go by.

In London we would buy it at any time, flown in from far flung places all year round - but it never ever compared to the locally grown stuff. When we moved to France we vowed to eat local and seasonal because we could - and we do.

So we have waited for nine months for the new asparagus season and it arrived two weekends ago when the the stall of M. Villa from Cavanac appeared in the market for the first time this year. That Saturday we were a bit tardy getting down to the market, it also being a grey, wet and windy morning, and were lucky to grab some of the last spears - it seems that the whole of Carcassonne has been waiting for the asparagus too!

We will eat it for the next three months until we are sick of it but that's ok because there will be lots of other things to gorge on by then. Even so, it's always good to find a new way to treat it and that's what happened this week - not only that but I used the left over ends after eating the tender part of the spear in a conventional way (melted butter and parmesan shavings if you must know) and I like nothing better than getting a delicious dish out of leftovers from another delicious dish.

Credit where it's due - this recipe owes an enormous amount to Yotam Ottolenghi's recipe for Asparagus Vichyssoise from his book 'Plenty', a marvellous source of ideas for vegetables - but his soup is cold, uses the whole asparagus spear and includes potato and sugar whilst mine is hot, uses the leftover ends and has no starch or sugar. Isn't that the way it should be though? - we use other recipes for inspiration but put our own twist on them based on instinct and what we have to hand at any given time. Sometimes it doesn't work but just sometimes you end up with something wonderful - as with this soup.

- leftover ends from 500g of asparagus spears, green parts chopped into 2cm bits and any really woody white parts discarded
- one leek and one shallot/three spring onions (whatever you have - I had half a huge end of a comedy spring onion the size of a cricket ball) outer layers removed and chopped.
- 500ml of vegetable stock
- 25g butter
- 50ml cream
- 2 tablespoons fromage frais (or greek yoghurt or creme fraiche)
- lemon zest
- salt and pepper

To prepare;
- saute the leek, onion and asparagus in the butter for 5 minutes over a gentle heat
- add the stock and some salt and pepper and simmer gently for 30 minutes
- blitz to a smooth consistency in a blender (you can then pour it through a sieve for an even smoother texture if you wish)
- stir in the cream and fromage frais and check the seasoning
- reheat gently to serving temperature
- serve with freshly grated lemon zest ( a truly inspirational final touch that elevates the dish to the monumentally sublime)

If you are making this to impress you could add finely chopped mint and a swirl of cream or keep back some of the tender asparagus tips to garnish the final dish.

We were so impressed that I plan to make it again tomorrow and then again for this weekend's clients on Sunday. I bet it's delicious cold too - I just haven't tried that yet.

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