Springtime means the arrival of fresh crops of asparagus, and what better way to meet your vegetable requirements than a rich bowl of cream of asparagus soup.
Asparagus has been cultivated for thousands of years in Western civilization both for culinary and medicinal purposes, and the thin, green garden variety (Asparagus officinalis) makes a wonderful semi-sweet soup. Leave it for the French to elevate cream-based soups, this one as crème d’asperges, and it is delicate, velvety and almost foolproof.
If you bend an asparagus stalk slowly until it snaps in two, the point at which it splits is generally the best guide for trimming the plant. About the top three quarters of the stalk is better for texture and flavor as the bottoms tend to be firm and woody, and contribute little but an undesirable fibrous element. A hand-held immersion blender can be used to purée the soup for finishing but taking the time to transfer to a standard kitchen blender yields a much more satisfying consistency.
Many recipes use either a roux or béchamel as a thickening agent, or even softer varieties of potatoes like Yukon gold. However, for simple cream-based soups there is little that can replace the satisfying mouthfeel of an unadulterated dairy product. Straight cream or crème fraîche are nice but using commercial half-and-half gives the soup the same velvety texture without being as heavy.
This soup can be an entrée but it works best as an accompaniment or appetizer to something heavy like a steak, or paired with a sandwich and chips for lunch. It can be served in a coffee cup or even as a small two-ounce “shooter,” and it reheats perfectly with just a few minutes in the microwave.
Garnishes can range from a few blanched asparagus tips, sour cream or crème fraîche, lemon zest or even crumbles of crispy fried bacon.
Cream of Asparagus Soup
2 lb asparagus
1 yellow onion
2 T butter
½ c half-and-half
4 c chicken stock
1 t lemon juice
1 Cut the asparagus into half-inch pieces. (Reserve the tips if using for garnish.)
2 Chop the onion and sauté in butter over low heat until soft. Add the asparagus and cook for 5 min, or until just tender.
3 Add the stock and simmer, covered, for 20 min.
4 Purée the soup in batches until smooth. Stir in half-and-half, lemon juice, and season to taste.