Ahh, the spring growing season is upon us, and I have already feasted on several forms of asparagus. Roasted. Grilled. Grilled again. And so on. When I was a kid I discovered that I really liked fresh asparagus, which was unusual because I was the insanely picky child. The next time we had asparagus, my mother pulled the worst bait-and-switch in history and served canned instead of fresh, and it was grossly inferior, with the accent on gross. I cried. And I didn’t touch asparagus again until I was an adult.
Sorry, Mom. But it’s true.
Childhood trauma notwithstanding, I have come to love the mighty asparagus spear. Using the entirety of my food and creating as little waste as possible gives me a sense of virtue that I don’t often have in my daily life. When we can combine the two? Bliss. Eating asparagus involves inherent waste because there’s that tough, woody end that you have to cut off, which gives me a sad. But never fear! Put those babies in the freezer until you’re ready to make stock, and then?
Homemade asparagus stock leads to homemade asparagus soup. Yes!
Making asparagus stock is super-super simple. Gather up your asparagus butts and put them in a stock pot. Toss whatever else you want in there; I used an onion, a celery stalk, two carrots, five cloves of garlic, six or eight bay leaves and maybe two teaspoons of black pepper. Do you want to throw in some parsley? Go ahead. Mushrooms? Sure! Another celery? Go for it. Do bear in mind that asparagus is a more delicate flavor and can be overwhelmed, so you might not want to put in a whole head of garlic…or maybe you do, so go for it! The only thing I held back on was the salt. I didn’t put much in at this stage of the stock-making, maybe only a teaspoon or two. I wanted to be able to toss some in at the end to bring out the flavor once the stock had come together. Anyway.
So you use twice as much “per height” water as there are veggies in your pot. Meaning, if you have three inches of stock vegetables loaded into the bottom of your stock pot, then you would put in about six inches of water. Did it make a ton of stock? Yes. Did I care? Not even a little.
Bring your stock veggies to a boil, and let it rip for about five minutes.
And then turn it down to a simmer and let it cook for an hour. That’s it! Once it’s cooked you can taste the broth and adjust it for seasonings, then strain it into another large pot, through a mesh colander lined with cheesecloth. You should have a beautiful, clear brown stock that looks something like this:
So, you could leave this alone, let it cool, divide it up into usable portions and put it in your freezer for future use. Or, you can let your stock start working for you and use it towards that night’s dinner.
Or both, which had been my intention all along.
Assemble ingredients for soup. I used:
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 2 carrots
- 1 celery stalk
- 3 or 4 cloves of garlic
- 1 bunch of asparagus
- 1 lemon
- 1-2 tablespoons of your herb(s) of choice; I used marjoram and some sage here, but it easily could have been thyme or oregano or fennel
- 2-3 bay leaves
- Asparagus stock
- Salt & pepper to taste
FYI, I wanted some kind of starch to go in the soup so I made orzo. This soup would also be nice with diced boiled potatoes or sweet potatoes or maybe brown rice. If you’re going to make something like that to go with your soup, now is a good time to start thinking about when you need to get that water started.
Get some oil heating in another large pot, then start by sauteing the onions for a minute or two. Then add in the celery and carrots and let them cook together for three or five minutes; let everything start to get soft and mingley. Add the garlic and let that saute for another minute, then zest your lemon right into the pot. Cut the lemon into wedges and reserve as a garnish for your dinner.
Once that’s done add your bay leaves and herbs, and some salt and pepper (but go easy on the S&P so you can tinker with it some more at the end). Let these all saute together another couple of minutes, until the veggies are starting to brown onto the bottom of the pot and everything smells summery and fragrant. Add your asparagus stock. I used about eight cups, but you can use more or less depending on how chunky you want your soup. Actually, here’s what I did. I put six cups in with the veggies for soup, then I measured out various sizes of asparagus stock to freeze for future soups and risottos (labeling what it is, how much is there and when it was made, of course).
Then whatever broth was left? Also went in the soup. There’s only so much measuring I can do before I start to make myself nuts.
Let that come to a boil for a few minutes, then reduce it to a simmer. Chop the asparagus into bite size-ish chunks and cook it lightly. I have a grill pan so I used that, but if you don’t then just saute it for a few minutes and all will be well.
When the orzo is ready, drain it and put it in a serving bowl. When the asparagus are grilled or sauteed, put them in a serving bowl. This soup doesn’t take long at all to cook so by the time orzo and grilled asparagus are ready the soup should be too, so just taste it again and add more salt or pepper as you see fit. BUT! Don’t add the asparagus or the orzo directly into the pot of soup.
Why, you ask?
I’m here to tell you. The asparagus will get soggy and unappetizing and the orzo will continue to soak in soup and will swell to a gooey and unpalatable mass. This is a soup that is greater than the sum of its parts, so long as those parts are maintained separately until they’re ready to be eaten. And then? All bets are off.
You’ve already got those lemon wedges waiting to be used, and I have certainly never complained about tossing a little parmesan cheese into my soup. Chop a little fresh mint as a bonus garnish, and drizzle with olive oil.
And if you’ve got a swanky back porch to eat it on, even better.
Happy cooking, everyone! See you ’round the farmer’s market!