Asparagus are everywhere. Wild, cultivated, in the market and in grocery stores; there is no escaping asparagus at this time of year. They’re even selling asparagus plants at the nursery. Lovely, little ferny plants, and in a couple of years, if all goes well, you can harvest a few stalks of asparagus. Never quite seemed like it was worth the effort, especially at this time of year when asparagus are so cheap and plentiful.
I didn’t like asparagus when I was kid. It was ...weird and mushy and strongly flavored. I wonder if my mother served us canned or frozen asparagus because we didn’t normally eat mushy vegetables. I grew up in the 1950’s when store bought vegetables were just being bred for shipping and convenience and fresh asparagus may not have made its appearance in the hinterlands of New Jersey. Remember when tomatoes were packed three in a row in a little plastic basket and covered in crinkly cellophane? The pale, pink tomatoes were so firm, in a pinch, they could double as tennis balls.
I had my asparagus revelation in my early twenties in San Francisco. We were invited to dinner by a business associate who I couldn’t stand. I dreaded going to ‘that’ woman’s house. However, she served this lovely steamed asparagus with a bit of lemon and olive oil. I loved the asparagus, but it didn’t change the way I felt about ‘her’. Just because she served a good side dish, didn’t mean I needed to forgive her Bitch by the Bay attitude.
Let bygones by bygones, and let’s get on with the soup recipe! This is a soup you can have as long as you have fresh asparagus.
Lemony Spring Asparagus Soup
10-12 stalks of asparagus, about 3/4 pound
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 large celery stock, gently chopped
1 good size knob of butter
4 cups water or chicken stock
To roughly chop the carrot and onion, you need to wear big black motorcycle boots and have a large dull cleaver. Whack away at the vegetables while dangling an ashy cigarette from your lower lip and grunt loudly as you chop.
For the celery, don your best ballet slippers, a tiara, stand on pointe, hum a lullaby, and very gently slice away at the celery. Use a sharp knife so the celery won’t feel a thing.
Toss the carrot, onion and celery into a soup pot with a little olive oil and a two finger pinch of salt. Let the vegetables mingle and brown a bit in the olive oil, over medium heat, while you clean and chop the asparagus. A bit of brownage on the vegetables is a good thing.
You can choose any costume that suits your mood whilst cleaning the asparagus. I like to play doctor as I figure out where to snap the asparagus. Too high, and you waste, too low, and you’re eating wood pulp. I was taught to flex the asparagus and it will naturally break at the right point. I’m not really sure that it works, but it is entertaining.
With cultivated, grocery store asparagus that is all the same size and shape, I just whack off the ends at about the point where it looks like the spear becomes tender. There’s no need to peeling the spears if you are making soup.
Cut the asparagus into good size chunks and add to the soup pot. Add 4 cups water or chicken stock to the pot and let simmer for about 45 minutes. Reserve a few asparagus tips for the garnish.
Puree the vegetables and stock into a thick soup and return to the heat.
Reduce the soup on medium high heat if you feel it is a bit watery.
Slice the reserved asparagus tips lengthwise and sauté them in butter. Add a generous sprinkle of salt and a good squirt of lemon juice. You want this garnish to be perky and lemony.
Right before serving, swirl in a knob of butter and a generous squirt of fresh lemon juice.
Fill the soup bowls, add the zippy little spear tip garnishes to the bowl and grate a bit of lemon peel on top of the soup.
Enjoy with a crispy, cool white wine, and all will be well on a sunny spring day.
And if you are worried about the stinky pee effect of aspargus, you are not alone. Be sure to read through to the final comment...you’ll never think of asparagus, beetroot, puffed wheat and semen in the same way. You'll also wonder about grammar education in the UK and the USA.
Buon apetito and buon divertimento!