Thursday, April 4, 2013

Asparagus, Leek and Green Garlic Soup


I got my earliest lesson in seasonality 11 years ago in Bologna, Italy. At the time, I was trying to study art history while getting over a break-up. I was also trying to do the Atkins diet in the midst of a brutal May heatwave. 


Like dating an Italian, that turned out to be a bad idea.


I found a diet-appropriate asparagus soup recipe on-line that said, "Sometimes, the simplest recipes are the best, as is the case here." The soup contained merely leeks, asparagus, butter, and chicken stock. Despite wanting to subsist solely on gelato and fresh fruit, I trudged through the oppressive heat to the large, open market, questioning why I had left my apartment in which I had 1) an electric fan, and 2) the ability to wear nothing but underwear. I searched in vain for leeks, and finally asked a vendor, who said in patronizing tones, "Non sono di stagione." 


I felt like punching him and thought indignantly, "Leeks don't have a season. Leeks are always in season!" (It turns out dieting and heatwaves make me really cranky.)


When I got back to California, where leeks (and air-conditioning) are always in season, this soup became a favorite. Even though I'm (thankfully) beyond the days of post-break-up diets, I still look forward to my first pot of asparagus leek soup each spring. This is my current favorite version.


It is true that the simplest recipes are sometimes the best, and this one lets the grass-green flavor of asparagus take center stage. Masses of leeks and green garlic sauteed in butter keep the soup sweet and flavorful, even when made with water instead of stock. A bit of potato gives it a voluptuous texture without the need to add cream. I like this soup topped with a bit of lemon zest-kissed yogurt. It takes well to add-ins, too: spinach, fresh peas or pea shoots, or herbs such as cilantro, chives, chervil or tarragon are all welcome additions. One of my favorite asparagus soups came from Range, and it was topped with a softly poached egg and crispy bread crumbs. Keep it simple, or go to town.


But do make it in early to mid spring when green garlic is in season. 
 

Gussied-up asparagus:

Spring soups:

Asparagus, Leek and Green Garlic Soup

The cooking method described below preserves the green hue of the soup; if you prefer, you can skip the blanching and cooling steps and simply add the asparagus with the water and potato. I think fat asparagus stalks tend to be more meaty and creamy, and make the best soup, but any tasty, in-season asparagus will do. Feel free to garnish the soup with chives, chervil, tarragon or cilantro; see the post above for more ideas.

Makes 6 servings

2 pounds (about 2 bunches) asparagus 

3 large stalks (4 ounces) green garlic
3 medium leeks (12 ounces)

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon salt
1 large yellow potato (6 ounces), peeled and diced
lemon juice, to taste

3/4 cup yogurt (whole or low-fat), or crème fraîche 
zest of 1 small lemon (meyer or regular)

Fill a pot with 2 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Snap the woody ends of the stems off of the asparagus spears and discard; they will naturally break at the right spot. Keep the heads in tact and slice the stems. Blanche the asparagus in the simmering water for 1-2 minutes, until bright green and crisp-tender. Strain through a colander and into a large bowl, reserving the asparagus water. Rinse the asparagus under cool water to stop the cooking, and set aside.

Trim the root ends off of the green garlic and leeks. Slice the green garlic (leafy green parts included) crosswise into thin rounds, and place the rounds in a large bowl. Slice the leeks in half lengthwise, then slice the white and light green parts crosswise into 1/4" thick half-moons. Place the sliced leeks in the bowl with the green garlic, fill with cool water, and separate the rings, swishing occasionally as they soak to release any sandy dirt, which will sink to the bottom. Scoop the leeks and garlic out of the water (you can repeat the soaking/scooping process if the leeks are super dirty), drain them in a colander and give them a final rinse.

Melt the butter and olive oil together in a soup pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the leeks and green garlic and saute until bright green and tender, 5-10 minutes. Add the salt, potato, and enough of the reserved asparagus cooking water to cover the vegetables, 4-6 cups. Bring to a boil, then cover the pot and simmer until the potato is very tender, 10 minutes. 

Remove the lid and let the soup cool to warm, 30-60 minutes. (This is to preserve the color of the asparagus, but you can skip the cooling step if you prefer.) 

Add the asparagus, reserving several pretty heads for garnish, and puree the soup with an immersion blender, or in batches in a regular blender, thinning with more asparagus water as needed. Stir in the juice of half a lemon, taste for salt, adding more salt or lemon as you see fit. 

Meanwhile, stir together the yogurt and lemon zest. 

Re-warm the soup, and serve in bowls with a dollop of lemony yogurt and a couple of asparagus tips. The soup will keep in the fridge for up to three days.

18 comments:

  1. Ugh, ITALIANS. I know that mistake. I hope you at least dated a real from-Italy Italian, and not some spoiled bro from Westchester (like I did).

    This soup sounds awesome. I'm still waffling back and forth between warm and cold weather foods (as our weather continues to do the same, temperature-wise), and this seems like the best of both worlds. :D

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    1. I almost died laughing when I read this. I'm so glad someone understands!

      Yes, this soup is great for waffling weather. Thanks, Carey! :)

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  2. Any excuse to use my immersion blender is a good one! And love your soup bowls!

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    1. I'm a fan of my immersion blender, too!

      I got the bowls from CB2 last December. I tried to find the link to share, but I don't see them on their site anymore. Maybe they'll get more around the holidays, as I believe they were billed as "nibble bowls."

      Thanks for reading, Ahu!

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  3. Hello and Greetings
    After a long time I was on Foodgawker and look what I found :) I must say you have a lovely space with an eye of details ...... Your step by step pics show how passionate you are about what you are doing and how much you love it.
    Love being here and very happy to follow you ......
    Keep Blogging n spread the joy
    Regards,
    Satrupa
    http://satrupa-foodforthought.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Satrupa - they completely made my day.

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  4. Fabulous soup. The flavour is bright and lovely.

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    1. So glad you like it! Thanks for the comment.

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  5. Ok, I've just made this for a picnic dinner at my son's baseball game tonight, and chocolate cheesecake in jars for dessert! What would my family do without you! Thanks for the great recipes.

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    1. Aw, that completely made my day! You are so welcome, and thanks for the kind words.

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  6. Hi, this is a great post. I wondered if you would like to link it in to the new Food on Friday which is running right now over at Carole's Chatter. We are collecting recipes using carrots and/or leeks. This is the link . I hope you pop over to check it out. There are lots of great recipes already linked in.

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  7. Can I tell you how thankful I am that I found this recipe? It uses all the veggies from our CSA box this week that I'd been scratching my head over! Very excited to make it:)

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    1. Oh, that makes me really happy! I love when the CSA works out like that, and lucky you for getting all that nice spring produce. Happy cooking! :)

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  8. Green garlic and chives from the garden - yay. Unfortunately my leeks got a late start and look like chives. Baby chives. The soup retained it's lovely green color (beautiful pictures you have) and lemon and salt at the end lightened up the earthy flavor to give it a good spring taste.

    Next time, I'll add a bit more of the darker green part as I only used the white and light green of the garlic to add a richer garlic flavor. I overlooked that in your recipe details.

    I made the Cherry Frangipane Tart while the onion/leek part of the soup cooled and had an awesome Spring Sunday Supper! Thank you.

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    1. Lucky you to have such lovely things growing in your garden! Chive-sized leeks actually sound pretty exciting to me! I'm really glad you liked the soup and the tart - that sounds like a perfect menu. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Nice comments make me warm and fuzzy!