Nothing sings like springtime more than asparagus: it’s the first thing I want to eat at the start of the new season of brighter days. The subtle, grassy flavour of asparagus, so out of place on our menus any other time of the year, comes into its own in warm weather. When the last of the cold spell leaves us, I always ask myself, “Is it pasta primavera season yet?” – and then proceed to use asparagus in pastas, stir-fries, salads, and soups such as this.
This soup is made with the finest ingredients: locally grown asparagus from the farmers’ market, the freshest artisan-made unsalted butter and cream, home-made vegetable stock (or asparagus cooking water), and a shower of the sprightliest of spring herbs from the garden.
Use green or white asparagus according to preference: the French value the white variety for its superior flavour, whereas the English believe green asparagus tastes finer. Serve the soup with rustic French country bread or good-quality baguette – warmed, and smeared, if you like, with a little Dijon or wholegrain mustard. Serves 4.
2 lb/ 1 kg green or white asparagus
1 oz/ 25g unsalted butter
4 shallots, trimmed, peeled and finely chopped
2 pints/ 1 litre mild vegetable stock
2 tablespoons mixture of fresh tarragon, chervil and chives, finely chopped
1 teaspoon celery salt
Freshly ground white pepper
Fine sea salt (optional)
9 fl oz/ 250 ml crème fraiche or single cream
1. Snap off the woody stems from asparagus spears, and discard them (or use them to make stock).
2. Cut the asparagus into approximately 3-inch pieces. Steam for around 3 to 4 minutes. Refresh in cold water and set aside.
3. Melt the butter in a soup pot, and sauté the shallots for 2 or 3 minutes on medium heat. Add the cooked asparagus pieces, and stir for another minute or two.
4. Add the stock, most of the herbs (reserve a few for garnish), celery salt, and pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat, cover with lid, and simmer for 30 minutes. The asparagus should be very tender. Let the soup cool slightly.
5. Blitz the soup in a food processor until smooth, then sieve into a clean saucepan. Pour in the crème fraiche or cream. Heat gently, but do not allow to boil. Season with white pepper. Taste the soup – it should already have enough salt because of the vegetable stock and celery salt, but add some sea salt if necessary.
6. Ladle the soup into individual bowls and garnish with the remaining fresh herbs. Add swirls of extra crème fraiche or cream if desired, and serve immediately.