Greetings from a tour bus somewhere in the middle of northern Texas! I’ve just begun a 3-week concert tour of the Southeast with Harry Connick Jr. and his big band, and I’m thrilled to be the “string boss” on the road with these guys. I’m sure I’ll have lots of stories by the end of the tour, musically or otherwise, and there are some great food cities on our itinerary, including Austin and New Orleans. However, I think it’s fair to say that our first stop in Thackerville, Oklahoma falls into the Culinary Wasteland category more than anything. In fact, the food options there were so abysmal that I made a dinner out of Airborne tablets dissolved in water and a ginger chocolate bar as my mind wandered back to the Asparagus Soup I’d made on Wednesday before I left town. Sometimes a daydream has to be enough to sustain you.
This recipe comes from Carla Hall, one of my all-time favorite contestants on Top Chef. You have to love someone who cooks from the heart the way she clearly does, and in watching her compete in both Season 5 and now Top Chef All-Stars, I’ve often wished that I could eat Carla’s food. I was delighted to find her asparagus soup recipe in the March issue of Food&Wine magazine.
Unlike the slow-simmering soups associated with cold winter months, this bright verdant soup comes together in a snap. After doing a quick sauté of onion and asparagus pieces, the veggies are simmered in broth until they lose their bite and then pureed in a blender till silky smooth. A glug of cream turns the soup even more velvety, and fresh tarragon adds a beguiling note.
Carla’s recipe also includes homemade Parmesan Shortbread Coins to accompany the soup, and I will definitely have to try those the next time I make this soup. However, I topped some baguette slices with a little olive oil and shredded parmesan cheese before sticking them under the broiler for a minute or two. I think it was an excellent quick substitute for the homemade savory crackers, perfect for dunking into the asparagus puree.
The arrival of spring is often elusive, as a gorgeous day that teases you with warmer weather and budding trees is often followed by unceremonious snow flurries. But I’m always hopeful when I start finding beautiful asparagus in the markets. To me, asparagus is the vegetable more than any that seems to happily whisper, “Spring is coming!” This soup is the essence of spring: fresh and cheerful while polka-dotted with bright green peas. And even if I weren’t on the road right now not knowing when I’ll see my next fresh vegetable, this Asparagus Soup is definitely lovely enough to inspire many a daydream.
One Year Ago: Tuscan Kale with Olive Oil Fried Eggs
Adapted, ever so barely, from a recipe by Carla Hall in Food&Wine, March 2011.
I used vegetable broth to make this a vegetarian version, though the original calls for low-sodium chicken broth. I left out the flat-leaf parsley and garnished the soup with lime zest because that’s what I had on hand.
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 – ½ pounds asparagus, woody ends removed and stalks cut into 1-inch pieces
1 quart vegetable broth
¼ cup fresh tarragon leaves
¾ cup heavy cream
½ cup frozen petite peas, thawed
salt and freshly ground white pepper
finely grated lemon or lime zest, for garnish
Melt the butter in a large pot. Add the onion and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until softened, about 6 minutes. Add the asparagus pieces and cook for 1 minute. Add the broth and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the asparagus is tender, about 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes. Stir in the tarragon leaves. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender until smooth. Reheat the soup in the pot, stirring in the cream and peas. Season to taste with salt and white pepper and garnish with grated zest. Serves 6.