This soup challenged me to make it. It dared me. Don’t get me wrong, I do like asparagus, especially when it’s young and tender and lightly blanched. I also love, love, love roasted asparagus spears with salty, crispy prosciutto slices wrapped around them, but you know, it’s salty, crispy pork, how can it go wrong?
This soup challenged me to do two things I would not usually do; cook asparagus for nearly an hour (an hour!), and eat cold soup.
I can hear you all saying, “What’s this? You’ve never eaten cold soup?” The short answer is no. The slightly longer answer is I have always had this little pinging in the back of my head that tells me soup should be hot. That’s one of the strong points of soup, after all, isn’t it? It’s hot, and steamy, and comforting like a soft, warm blanket wrapped around your belly and your brain at the same time. If you crave something cold, eat a salad, or ice cream, or drink a tall, cold beer.
As to cooking the asparagus for a long time, believe me, I know what happens to asparagus when it is cooked too long. I hated asparagus growing up because (I have since learned) my mother cooked it to within an inch of its grey-green, mushy, smelly life. (My mom is a great cook, but vegetables were not her strong suit.)
This soup has changed my mind about both of those things.
This soup rocked my world.
I believe the secret is the magical alchemy that occurs when potatoes and leeks hit the pan together. They wrap their loving arms around that asparagus and allow all the best things about asparagus to emerge, while somehow making the unpleasantness of overcooked asparagus vanish into the cooking ether. The soup is served chilled, yet there is a cooling, satisfying, and filling comfort to be had in this soup that I simply did not think was possible. This is the first recipe from Plenty I decided to try, and well, I. Am. Hooked. I’m all in. Seriously, I’m gonna cook ’em all.
There are two versions of this recipe, one on ottolenghi.co.uk, and one in Plenty. The difference is the ingredient samphire, aka sea beans, aka poor man’s asparagus, which is not readily available here in the US. The substitute in the cookbook version is shredded blanched asparagus, which works well. Samphire is probably more briny, which sounds heavenly. This soup is meant to be made with late season asparagus, the thick, woody spears that aren’t as sweet and tender as their early season counterparts. Without further ado, here it is:
Asparagus Vichyssoise – from Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi, 2010.
1 medium potato
2 medium leeks
1 lb. asparagus
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups good-quality vegetable stock
1 teaspoon sugar
salt and white pepper
3 tablespoons heavy cream
6 tablespoons Greek yogurt
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
Peel the potato and dice roughly. Chop off and discard the tough green ends of the leeks. Cut through the pale center, then wash and slice roughly. Trim off and discard the woody base of the asparagus. Cut all but three of the spears into 3/4-inch pieces, keeping the tips separate. Reserve whole spears.
Place the vegetables, except for the asparagus tips, with the butter in a medium saucepan and sauté on medium heat for about 4 minutes; make sure they don’t take on any color. Cover the vegetables with the stock and add the sugar and some salt and white pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, for 40 minutes. At the end of this time add the asparagus tips and continue cooking for 10 minutes.
Once done, blitz the soup well in a blender until very smooth. Gently fold in the cream and half the yogurt. Allow the soup to come to room temperature, then chill.
While the soup is cooling down, bring a pan of water to the boil and blanch the reserved asparagus for 2 minutes; drain and refresh under plenty of cold water. Shred.
Pour the cold soup into bowls. Spoon a dollop of yogurt on top of each and swirl with the tip of a skewer. Place the shredded asparagus in the center and garnish with lemon zest.
Fair warning: while waiting for this soup to cool to room temperature, every time I went into the kitchen and walked past the pot, I HAD to, yes, HAD to, take a spoonful of soup. I’m amazed any of it made it into the refrigerator. Chilled and topped with the yogurt, asparagus, and lemon zest, it is even better. I’m pretty sure I could live on this soup, with some crusty bread and a wee pitcher of olive oil. I experimented with some briny-type garnishes, and powdered dried seaweed was a fantastic addition, sprinkled on oh, so lightly. It’s a good thing no one in the house wanted any of this soup, because I ate it all. Their loss, truly.
You want this soup. Now’s the time to make it, so get on with it. Even if you don’t usually prefer asparagus, you may find yourself surprised. Rock your world; eat this soup. See you again soon.