This is another recipe inspired by our travels in Europe earlier this year. It was the middle of Spring and the asparagus season was in full swing. Restaurants were promoting special asparagus menus – everything from entrees to desserts – and there were beautiful displays of fresh spears in local shops and street markets.
It was the plump white spears that particularly caught our attention. White asparagus is not widely available in Australia and, when it is, it costs more than green asparagus; the latter does not apply in Europe.
We ate several asparagus dishes during our four weeks in France and central Europe, including a remarkable white asparagus soup when we dined at Chez Pramil in Paris (see earlier post of April 2014). After our return, we resolved to attempt to produce something similar during our local asparagus season.
Last Saturday, we went to the Farmers’ Market held at the wonderful Collingwood Children’s Farm on the second Saturday of each month. It took us just 45 minutes to fill our double-decker shopping cart with a bounty of fresh produce, including two bunches of white asparagus.
On Sunday, we turned the asparagus into an elegant soup, known as spargelsuppe in southern Germany, the epicentre of Europe’s asparagus industry. Here is how we did it.
320g white asparagus spears
500ml chicken stock
1 tbsp (20ml) sugar
salt, to taste
30ml lemon juice
white pepper, to taste
¼ cup plain flour
½ cup cooking cream
fresh chives, chopped gently
- Trim about 1 cm from the base of each asparagus and reserve the trimmings. Prepare each spear by laying it on a workbench and using a sharp swivel-blade vegetable peeler to remove the skin, starting just below the top section of each spear; reserve the peeled skin. Use kitchen string to tie the spears securely into two bundles.
- Add 1½ litres (6 cups) of water and the chicken stock to a large saucepan and bring it to the boil. While the liquid is heating, add the sugar, two generous pinches of salt, 30g butter, lemon juice and all the asparagus trimmings to the pan.
- Once the liquid is boiling, add the asparagus bundles to the pan, bring it back to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Test the spears for tenderness using the point of a sharp knife. By this time, thin spears should feel evenly firm right through; thicker spears will take up to 10 minutes longer. Remove asparagus, remove string and place the spears on a plate to cool.
- Strain the cooking stock, discard solids, return the stock to the pan and bring to a rapid boil. Reduce the volume by one-third; this will take at least 20 minutes. Check seasoning after 15 minutes, adding white pepper – about ¼ teaspoon – and probably another pinch or two of salt.
- Roughly chop the asparagus and place it in a blender (or a pan and use a stick blender). Add 1 cup of the reduced stock and blend until smooth.
- Check the flavour of the stock. There should be a distinct but subtle flavour of asparagus, along with hints of lemon and sweetness and balanced seasoning. If in doubt, reduce the volume for a further 5 minutes. Transfer stock to a smaller pan.
- Add the remaining 80g of butter to the original pan and melt it over low-to-medium heat. Add the flour and cook for just over a minute. Add the stock ½ a cup at a time, stirring constantly with a whisk to keep the soup smooth. Simmer for 10 minutes to thicken the soup.
- Add the blended asparagus, return to a simmer, add the cream and simmer for 2 minutes more.
- Serve in warm bowls and sprinkle a couple of pinches of chopped chives in the centre of each bowl.