Eating Well In Season: Asparagus Soup

It took me awhile to get this post together, because it took awhile for Spring to get her act together here in New York. It was gray, and dark, and we ate grilled cheese until we couldn’t see straight.

When the publishers of Eating Well In Season: the Farmer’s Market Cookbook first sent me a review copy, I wanted to start right away. But it was cold in April, and the farmer’s market didn’t cooperate, unless I wanted to eat potatoes and pretzels. In the meantime, there were plenty of introductory pages to peruse in the book: short essays about farmer’s markets around the country, informational charts suggesting which produce is most important to buy organic, guides to healthy serving sizes, and a colorful display explaining some of the nutrients in red, orange, yellow, green, and blue fruits and vegetables. This is a book I could come back to as a reference, but I mostly collect cookbooks for their recipes. So I waited.

And then, suddenly, we were drinking iced tea on the balcony. The greens I’d been craving all month were finally piled on the weathered tables at the Union Square farmer’s market. Fronds of baby kale! Purple-stemmed broccoli raab with teeny yellow flowers! Dirt-encrusted ramps with smooth green leaves! And yes! Asparagus! In spring, my morning walk to work through the market becomes a treasure hunt. I’m unable to limit myself, an come home at night with bags full of greens. I pile bouquets of vegetables on the kitchen table.

For me, spring resolutions are more powerful than New Year’s resolutions. Each spring, when the sun and the greens come out again, I can commit to healthier living, to walking everywhere I can and getting to the gym, to focusing my diet on fresh produce. These spring resolutions are easier than the vows you make to yourself in the depth of winter. I’m inspired by the farmer’s market again every time I walk through. But then I usually just throw something together: green + grain + protein = dinner.

This book might be helpful if you’re just starting out eating seasonally, or if, like me,  you’re looking for recipes to inspire you to use produce beyond your basic pasta or stir fry. The Watercress & Sugar Snap Salad with Warm Sesame-Shallot Vinaigrette is on my to-make list when the peas show up (soon, please?), and there was a nice-looking Apricot-Almond Clafouti I’d like to try down the line. The recipes are light, and nutrition facts are provided, but they seem satisfying: steak salad and strawberry rhubarb cobbler (topped with a biscuit dough that features nonfat buttermilk) aren’t exactly rabbit food. There’s nothing really wacky here, no difficult-to-find ethnic ingredients, so it might be a good book for slightly less-than-adventurous cooks and eaters.

The Garden-Fresh Asparagus Soup seemed just exotic enough for me to give it a try. Gently spiced with a sprinkle of curry powder and ground ginger, it has a touch of warmth. Light coconut milk and potatoes give it an elegant creaminess, though I actually would have preferred more of a focus on the asparagus itself, rather than thinning out its flavor. The texture is lovely, and the swirl of lemony creme fraiche made for a pretty presentation.

Me, I think I’d rather just stuff spears of asparagus into my mouth. Raw, roasted, grilled, you name it. It’s been a long time since we’ve had great local greens. Maybe I’ll come back to the soup when the craving has quieted down a little.

Garden-Fresh Asparagus Soup

from Eating Well in Season
by Jessie Price and the Editors of EatingWell
(copyright 2009, The Countryman Press)
makes 6 appetizer servings

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
zest and juice of 1 lemon, divided
2 cups diced peeled red potatoes
3 cups vegetable broth or reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 cup “lite” coconut milk
2 cups 1/2-inch pieces trimmed asparagus (about 1 bunch)
freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup creme fraiche or reduced-fat sour cream
1/4 cup finely chopped scallion greens or fresh chives

1. Melt butter and oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring often, until golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in curry pwder, ginger, lemon zest and potatoes and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Stir in broth, coconut milk, and asparagus. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, partially cover and continue to cook until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

2. Puree and soup with an immersion blender or a regular blender (in batches) until smooth. (Use caution when pureeing hot liquids.) Season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper.

3. Whisk creme fraiche (or sour cream), lemon juice, and scallion greens (or chives) in a small bowl and garnish with a swirl of it.

In soup, vegetables, vegetarian

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