Actually, he came last week AND this week. Once again this year, I’ll be joining the Daydream Farms CSA, which is why Bruce Haas has already delivered my first two pounds of right-out-of-the-ground asparagus. I am a lucky green gal. I’ll bring my check for the first quarter of the market season with me next week—on my bike, rain or shine! And I’ll just add the asparagus into the total. That’s how a CSA works among neighbors and friends. Is this the year you join a CSA? There’s no better way to support local small farms, fix healthy meals for your family and force yourself to be creative and brave in the kitchen.
It is exactly one week from today when the Land of Goshen Community Market opens for the 2016 season, celebrating its 20th year as a local treasure. I’m feeling impatient, excited and truly, truly grateful for the bounty in my life.
Since my friend Deb was traveling out of town last week, I wanted to give her a super send-off dinner. Of course, that asparagus was the star of the show. I used one pound to make my rich and decadent Cream of Asparagus Leek Soup. To give it the extra special Green Gal touch, I used a finishing oil gifted to me by my friend Mary Lynn. Mary Lynn had just returned from New Hampshire and brought back a sampler bag of fancy, locally produced culinary oils and vinegars from Monadnock Oil & Vinegar Co. Yes, my friends really know me very well and are incredibly generous—especially if I cook for them!
- One pound asparagus, washed with woody bottoms removed, and chopped into one-inch pieces (My grandma always gently rolled her little paring knife across the bottom of the asparagus spear to test for tenderness. Where the knife easily pierced the spear, that’s where she broke it off.)
- Four large leeks, white and light green parts only, thoroughly washed and chopped (There are tips for cleaning leeks at the end of this post.)
- Four to four and a half cups vegetable stock, homemade or commercial (Not a vegetarian? Chicken stock would work great here.)
- One-half cup chopped yellow onion
- Four to five tablespoons olive oil
- A teaspoon or so of your favorite hot sauce (I still have homemade Harissa, so I used a half-teaspoon of that. You could use tabasco sauce, red pepper flakes, etc.)
- Sea salt and black pepper to taste
- Two tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- One-half cup half-n-half or heavy cream, slightly whipped
- One-half cup plain Greek yogurt, with--at the very least--one percent fat content (I love my Windcrest Farms. Also, see notes below for a vegan suggestion.)
- Finishing oil for a decadent drizzle at the end (optional)
- Crushed, raw pistachios (optional)
- Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and chopped leeks with a sprinkle of salt. Sauté until tender but not brown.
- Add the chopped asparagus and a dash more salt. Stir and continue to cook on medium heat for about five minutes or so, until everything has a nice sheen. Be sure to avoid browning.
- Add your four cups or so of stock and stir. Add some freshly ground black pepper and give it a taste. Adjust your salt as needed. Turn your heat to low and partially cover the pot with a lid. Your job now is to let it be, for the most part. You want this soup to cook down, reducing to almost half, and intensifying its flavors. This step will take about an hour. Check its progress every 15 minutes and give it the occasional stir to make sure it is not sticking.
- Near the very end of this stage, add your preferred hot sauce and the lemon juice. Stir and cook a bit longer. Taste and adjust. Once you feel the vegetables are quite soft and you have a richly flavored soup, take it off the heat and puree. You can puree it in a blender jar or use an emulsion wand for this task.
- Set the soup aside and turn your attention to the creamy ingredients. If you are using heavy cream or half-n-half, put it in a bowl and whip it to a frothy almost thick consistency with an electric mixer—just shy of whipped cream. Gently fold in your half-cup of yogurt, and then add the entire mixture to the soup. Stir to incorporate.
- You can heat this soup through to serve it warm (But do not boil.). Or, you can chill it for several hours and serve it cold.
- For extra fancy, drizzle with a finishing oil and sprinkle some crushed pistachios along the side of each bowl. My oil of choice for this dish was toasted butternut squash seed oil by Monadnock Oil & Vinegar Co. of Peterborough, NH.
If you are a vegan, substitute the cream and yogurt for plain, unsweetened almond milk. Your soup will be slightly thinner, so you might try adding a small diced white potato in the sauté at the beginning to give the soup a little body without really disturbing the intended flavor. For another topping idea, substitute the finishing oil and pistachios for a few tablespoons of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Asiago. Very yummy. Lemon zest also tops this soup well.
Here are two ways to clean leeks, which can be quite dirty and difficult to clean.
If you are planning to grill your leeks or serve them in a dish where they need to retain their length, remove the tough top leaves and the root end and slice them lengthwise. Hold them under cold running water to remove the dirt and sand from their layers. Be thorough here; nobody thinks of “gritty” as a good way to describe what they just ate.
If you don’t need to worry about the shape of your leeks, as in my soup recipe, chop off the tough top leaves and the root end.
Chop your leeks up through the light green part into rings. Place all the leek rings in a bowl of cold water and use your hands to remove all the dirt and sand as you separate the rings. Transfer to a colander and give them a good rinse.
Do you have a favorite asparagus recipe? How about leeks? Please share. And stay tuned… the next post will come fresh from the market!