A few weeks ago, my beloved Green City Market opened for the season. Granted, the market didn’t feature the bounty of summer, but it did still have a great selection of farm fresh items. One of my favorite spring time vegetables is asparagus and I was happy to see that many of the vendors were selling a number of varieties – thin and thick, purple and green. I opted to buy the thick cut (more flavor in my opinion) green variety.
These babies were so beautiful! While I contemplated just steaming them up and serving them alongside a piece of fish, I decided to get a bit more creative and turn them into the base of a cream of asparagus soup.
This proved to be an excellent decision. The soup had the perfect amount of creaminess, slight tang from fresh lemon juice, and a wonderful crunch thanks to homemade saffron flavored croutons.
This recipe was actually a slightly adapted version of an asparagus soup recipe of my mom’s that I have made many times. Hers is a “healthified” version of cream of asparagus soup which replaces the cream for potatoes to thicken the soup and add the right texture. And while I love that soup, I wanted an option that was a little bit more refined and truly allowed the asparagus to shine.
Speaking of asparagus – did you notice that the asparagus were sitting in water glasses in the above picture?
This is how I store asparagus! I find that, like fresh flowers, asparagus responds really well to being stored in water. They stay tender and maintain their vibrant color for at 3-5 days in the fridge (but of course, the earlier you use the asparagus, the fresher it will taste!).
Anyway, back to the soup. This would be the perfect starter to a fancy dinner party, but works equally well alongside a big salad on a busy weeknight because the whole thing comes together in 30 minutes.
However you enjoy it, just make sure you give it a try when the asparagus is at its freshest – a.k.a RIGHT NOW!
Cream of Asparagus Soup with Saffron Croutons – Serves 4-6 as an appetizer
2 lbs asparagus
1/2 stick butter
3 large shallots, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups water
S+P to taste
Fresh lemon juice (approximately the juice of one lemon is what I used)
3-4 slices of any variety of bread (I chose a multigrain variety), crusts removed and cut into small cubes
2 TB EVOO
1/3 tsp saffron threads
In order to remove the tough bottoms of the asparagus, I simply take the asparagus and bend lightly. Wherever the asparagus bends is the place where the tough meets the tender. Discard the tough pieces (keep if you make your own veggie stock!).
In a large stock pot, add the butter and melt over medium low heat. Once melted, add the chopped shallots and cook until they are soft, but not browned, about five minutes.
Add the cream, water, salt (start with 2 tsp) and pepper to the pot. Increase the heat to high and bring liquid to a boil. Add the asparagus, lower to a simmer, and cook until the asparagus is tender, but still has a bright green color, about five minutes.
Now it is time to puree the soup. Working in batches, add the contents of the pot into a blender and puree until smooth.
I found that the texture of the soup was perfect for me. Slightly thick, but very smooth. If you prefer a finer texture, you can push the contents of the soup through a fine mesh sieve.
Add the soup back to the pot and keep warm until you are ready to serve. Taste and adjust for seasonings as necessary. Right before serving, add enough lemon juice to taste. You certainly don’t want the overwhelming flavor of lemon to come through on the soup, but you want enough to know that it is there. I think 1/2 to a full lemon’s worth of juice is perfect, but let your palate guide you!
While the soup is staying warm, you can make the croutons, which is very easy! In a large sauté pan, add the EVOO and heat over medium-low heat. Add the saffron shreds and cook in the olive oil for 1 minute to infuse the oil. Add the bread and toss to coat in the saffron oil. Spring with salt and pepper and cook until the croutons are golden and toasted.
Serve the soup topped with croutons and one more spray of lemon juice!