Saturday, February 5, 2011

Asparagus Soup - Must Taste!!

We're eating asparagus two nights in a row because it goes bad quickly.  That, and we love asparagus.  I think it goes best with salmon so on the rare occasion we have salmon in the house (it can be expensive) I always make asparagus to go with it.  Tonight I decided on asparagus soup.  It's one of our all-time favorite recipes; it is so, so yummy.  It's pretty involved, so if it looks too complicated for you, just try to do it on a night when your husband can keep a close eye on the kids, or make it for lunch while they're napping, or while your husband has them at the gym or something.  Hire a babysitter if you have to, the soup is that.  Good.  I got this recipe from a vegetarian cookbook, credited to "Consulting editor Nicola Graimes."  This is a great recipe to try if you've never had asparagus, or if you think you don't like asparagus, because its mild flavors will be a gentle introduction to the loveliness that is asparagus.

You'll need:
a pound of asparagus (I like the skinny green kind)
6 small-medium shallots or 3 to 4 giant shallots
lemon juice
1 cup milk (I use whole, but whatever you have is okay)
1/2 cup light cream (I could only find regular and it was fine)
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock ( vegetable cubes are hard to find, so I've done it with chicken and it turns out just as good.)

a sieve
two soup pots
a blender or food processor

This recipe requires you to slice asparagus, which is unusual; but you do it just like you would a carrot.  After trimming them (with your toddler, see previous blog), line them up and slice them into tiny round discs.  Set them aside and slice the shallots.  My grocery store carries humongous shallots and I find that 4 is sufficient, but use your best judgement.  They have a mild onion flavor that is fantastic in soups and sauces.

Sautee the shallots in butter until they're slightly softened, then add the asparagus.  Cook for about 5 minutes, season with salt and pepper, and add the broth and the lemon juice.  The recipe calls for a tablespoon of lemon juice; I probably use a little more than that.  Save your lemon; you'll use it for the salmon later.  Bring the soup to a boil, half-cover it, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the asparagus are very tender.

Take the soup off the heat and allow to cool slightly before pouring into your blender.  Puree the soup.  Set up your sieve in such a way that it can rest on top of your other (clean) soup pot.  Pour the soup into the sieve so that it falls through into the clean soup pot.  Stir and scrape along the sieve, like you're sifting powdered sugar, so that you get the maximum yield out of your puree.  When it turns into a pulp, add the milk to the sieve and sort of rinse it out to get a little more out of it.  Put your dirty sieve in the sink and put the soup pot, now full of soup, back on the stove.  Heat it gently (you don't want to scorch or boil the milk) and slowly stir in the cream.  Give it a taste, season as desired, and you're all done.  You can serve this a first course while your main dish is cooking, or eat it as a light lunch.  It's not a soup that eats like a meal, so I wouldn't make it the main course for dinner. 

Salmon is my favorite fish because it has such a wonderful flavor all by itself, and this is also the reason some people don't like it.  It's probably the only fish that is popular raw, cold smoked, heat smoked, baked, sauteed, broiled, ground into burgers, and even pureed into cheese spreads.  The french serve it tartare.  It tastes great any way you slice it, and is popular among nutritionists for its concentration of good fats.  All this flavor is yet another reason it is perfect to serve with asparagus soup, because you really don't have to do anything to it.

If you're unsure how to pick out fresh salmon, you can buy it frozen.  Your best bet is to find a fish market in your area.  They can tell you when and where it was caught, how to store it, how to cook it, whether you can eat it raw, and how long to hold onto it before cooking or eating.  The general rule of thumb is to smell the fish.  It should not smell like anything, especially not fish.  Fresh fish shoud smell like nothing, but it can be hard to detect 'nothing' when you're in a fish market, because they can be smelly in general.  If it smells a little fishy because you're getting it from a grocery store and they have no idea where it came from, it will probably still be okay once you cook it completely, as long as the smell is not strong or offensive.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; this will ensure easy clean-up.  Lay your salmon fillets (about one per person, but it's good leftover too) on the parchment paper and season both sides with salt and pepper.  Squirt some lemon juice on top.  I used one half a lemon for the soup and the asparagus, total.  Stick in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes and enjoy!  If you want it done at the same time as your soup, put it in the oven towards the middle of the soup-boiling stage.

I served this with plain white rice, which I made ahead of time in my handy-dandy rice cooker.  It's one of my favorite kitchen appliances.  Alton Brown will tell you not to buy one unless you eat a ton of rice, but we do eat a ton of rice, and it has saved my life on multiple occasions.  It stays good, and warm, in there for days, so it's great for early pregnancy and stomach viruses!  When you're all down for the count with a nasty stomach bug, and all you're supposed to eat is rice anyway, it's so nice to have it already made and warm, waiting for you in the kitchen. 

So you see, it's okay to make something a little complicated like asparagus soup when you have easy things to go with it like baked salmon and white rice :)  Just don't make it the same day you make risotto or you might have your hands full.

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