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04/05/2015

~ It's Easy Being Green: Cream of Asparagus Soup + (How to: Choose, Store and Cook Asparagus too!) ~

PICT2719The calendar, green grass, daffodils and sunshine tell me it is Spring.  That said, a few days of uncharacteristically warm March temperatures took a dive down into the mid-thirties to start April off.  Yesterday I turned the heat back on in the house and today have declared this to be a soup day.  No vegetable announces the Spring season and the Easter holiday like asparagus!

PICT2715They are in-season, plentiful, plump and flavorful.  I've been buying them in 2-pound quantities every couple of days, and it just so happens I have 1 1/2 pounds of them in my refrigerator, just enough to make my super-easy, creamy, Spring-green asparagus soup for dinner tonight!

When choosing asparagus:  Freshness matters more than thickness!

PICT2694How to choose asparagus:  Look for straight, firm stalks that are bright green in color.  Do not buy asparagus that appears dry, wrinkled or limp.  The tender heads should be compact and deep-green, slightly purple-ish in color, not ruffled or flowery looking.  To ensure even cooking, always purchase asparagus of even thickness.  While thinner asparagus tends to be more tender, medium-thickness, like I am using today, is perfect for boiling or roasting, and, thick asparagus is great when grilled.  Do not purchase asparagus unless you plan to cook it within 2-3 days, and, when you bring it home, don't wash it.  Before you refrigerate it, stand each bunch upright in a glass with about half an inch of cold water in it, or, wrap the woody stem ends in damp paper towels then place the spears in a food storage bag.  Prior to cooking asparagus, rinse it under cold water.  Do not soak it or scrub it.  Holding the stalks upside down, give them a few shakes, to remove excess water and any grit that might be in the tips.  The versatile asparagus can be eaten raw or microwaved, blanched, boiled, stir-fried, baked, roasted, grilled and eaten cold, hot or at room temperature!

PICT2695With the exception of pencil-thin asparagus (which are completely edible), each stalk is structured with a woody end, and, the thicker the stalk the longer the woody end. Holding  each stalk at the base and tip, bend it until it snaps in two. Where the break occurs is where the tender, edible green stalk will separate from its tough, whitish, inedible base.  Discard the woody ends.  Prep and cook the stalks as directed in the recipe you are using.

************

Easy Cream of Asparagus Soup

PICT27171 1/2  pounds asparagus spears, medium-thickness, tips and stalks cut into 1-1 1/2" lengths, woody stalk ends discarded

3/4  cup finely-diced yellow or sweet onion

1/2  cup finely-diced celery

4  tablespoons salted butter (1/2 stick)

1 tablespoon dried mint flakes

1/2  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4  teaspoon white pepper

2  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

1/2  cup white wine

2  cups chicken stock (vegetable stock may be substituted)

1-1 1/2 cups cream, at room temperature

PICT2717 PICT2715~ Step 1.  In a 4-quart stock pot, melt the butter over low heat. Stir in mint, nutmeg, salt, cayenne and white peppers.  

Add the celery and onions. Increase heat to saute, until onion is soft and translucent, 5-6 minutes.

PICT2722~ Step 2.  Reduce heat to low and stir in the flour.  Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is very thick and the bottom of the stockpot is dry, about 45-60 seconds.

~ Step 3.  Add the white wine and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is smooth and lump-free, an additional 45-60 seconds.  

PICT2728~ Step 4.  Add the chicken stock and bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat.  Add the asparagus tips and pieces.  Adjust heat to a slow, steady simmer and continue to cook until the asparagus is cooked through, about 10-12 minutes.  

Note:  Timing will vary depending upon how thick the asparagus is.

PICT2735~ Step 5.  Turn the heat off.  Add 1 cup of the cream.  Stir thoroughly. Cover the pot and allow the soup to "steep"  30-60 minutes to allow the flavors ample time to marry.

~ Step 6.  Transfer to work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  With motor running, process until smooth, about 45- 60 seconds. Let sit 2-3 minutes.  Process in additional cream, if necessary, until desired consistency is reached. 

This beautiful, subtly-flavored, Spring soup is best served slightly warm or at room temperature:

PICT2716It's Easy Being Green:  Cream of Asparagus Soup + (How to:  Choose, Store and Cook Asparagus too!):  Recipe yields 2 quarts or 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot w/lid; large spoon; food-processor; soup ladle

PICT2707Cook's Note:  ~ My Asparagus, Smoked Salmon and Havarti Tart ~ is the perfect compliment to this refreshing, comforting Spring-green soup.  Just click into categories 2, 9 or 14 to get the recipe! 

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)

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