Happy Spring, News24/680 readers!
As a chef, spring is my most anticipated food season. As we emerge from the darkness of winter (and this year has been particularly profound), the food choices brighten, lighten and the color spectrum moves from orange and earthy-browns to a full-spectrum of green! Spring onions, green garlic, fresh English and sugar snap peas, artichokes (another topic altogether), and especially ASPARAGUS! Of all the spring arrivals, asparagus is my most anticipated spring vegetable. For me, seasonal vegetables are like holidays – when the local season is over, it’s over – and we wait until next year! This is particularly true for asparagus…
This year, with longer-lasting, cooler-than-usual temperatures, the asparagus season is taking longer to begin. The markets are just barely beginning to present the first crops, and even these are coming from Mexico – not ideal. We in the Bay Area are fortunate to have asparagus crops from not only Monterey and the Central Valley, but also the Delta – just to the East of us. At the beginning and end of the season it is not unusual to find organic asparagus costing upwards to $5.99 per pound! But, if we wait, the organic can be found for as little $1.99 per pound during the peak of season. The lesson here is…wait!
Asparagus is a great example of how seasonal crops flow through our markets. The first of the spring crops come from Mexico and Central America. As the warm weather pushes north, we will see crops from the lower Central (Imperial) Valley, then the Central Coast (Monterey/Salinas), finally the Delta. As the temperatures rise here, the crops begin to emerge from Washington State and the Northwest. We also have a local fall crop as temperatures cool, lasting from late-September through October. And then…it’s over.
How do you know where asparagus is coming from? Read the signs and labels (as markets are required to post). I recommend waiting for our local crops (Monterey and Delta). They are fresher, taste best, and locally grown means less of a carbon footprint (less shipping – fuel and distance).
I am going to post a variety of asparagus recipes through the season. Although not in season yet, collect these preparations and add them to your repertoire as the season blooms!
The first I present is a favorite of mine: Asparagus-Parmesan Soup with Herb Butter. When selecting your local asparagus, choose spears that the ends are hopefully kept on ice or in cold water, but most importantly, the tips are tight and free from “flowering” (see the photo I’ve attached – the bunch on the far left are tips are tight; the ones on the right are opening, and this means they are older and less fresh). Use the asparagus the day you buy it to ensure best flavor and results!
Looking forward to sharing more of these recipes asparagus and my next favorite…ARTICHOKES! Spring is here!
– Chef Charlie
Asparagus – Parmesan Soup with Herb Butter
For the Soup:
2 pounds medium-sized asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
4 tablespoons butter
2 leeks, (‘white part’ about 6-inches in length) trimmed, washed and cut into 1-inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups whole milk
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon, or to taste
For the Herb Butter:
4 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon of fresh basil, finely minced
2 tablespoons of fresh parsley, finely minced
1 tablespoon of fresh tarragon, finely minced
1 tablespoon of chives, finely minced
1 teaspoon of lemon zest
1 pinch of sea salt
• Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped leeks and garlic, and sweat, without browning, until soft, about 5 minutes.
• Add the asparagus pieces, chicken (or vegetable) broth and the cheese. Stir to combine. Cover and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer until the asparagus is tender, about 15 minutes.
•. While the soup is cooking, prepare the herb butter: cream the butter with a fork, and fold in the fresh herbs, lemon zest and salt. Place butter in a 6-inch ‘log’ on a sheet of plastic wrap and roll, tightening and twisting the ends to create a 1 1/2 -inch diameter roll. Place in the freezer, and chill until needed.
• When asparagus is tender, purée the soup in a blender until smooth and return to the soup pot
• Re-warm over medium heat. Add the milk, and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add then, add the lemon juice, to taste.
• When ready to serve, unwrap the butter, and cut into 1/2-inch slices. To serve, ladle the hot soup into individual soup bowls, and add a slice of the chilled herb butter.
© 2021, Epicurean Exchange. All rights reserved.