Every day last week, every time I opened my fridge, there they were, two and a half pounds of once fresh and beautiful spring asparagus deteriorating before my very eyes. Whether I was reaching for milk or for other, less qualified vegetables, I always threw a guilty glance at the long green stems as they stood up, erect and proud, in the shallow dish of water I had so conscientiously placed them in.
I'd had the best intentions. Really, I had. The Sunday I bought them I was hosting a small dinner party; the menu included spring lamb shoulder, homemade olive tapenade, lentils and asparagus. They were to be steamed and served with a lovely red wine and shallot vinaigrette. It was going to be grand...
But then I got it into my head to make a Greek salad and I thought I could do both. I was convinced, but alas, I couldn't and the asparagus suffered. So, here I was this past Saturday afternoon wondering what to do with this sorry lot of greenery. I was about to throw them all away when my husband suggested I make a soup. I argued with him as I usually do when he makes a suggestion, especially a good one. I shooed him and our baby girl out the door to the playground so I could make dinner and then I got to thinking, 'hmmm, maybe he's onto something.'
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of chatting with Nach Waxman, owner of Kitchen Arts and Letters on the Upper East Side. It's a fabulous store dedicated to books on food and cooking. He said the difference between Europeans and Americans is the Euros think to themselves, what do I have to coook with tonight whereas we think what do I want to make for dinner. Aha! I realize now my Massachussetts-raised hubby is more Euro than me, American mutt that I am. Not only that, but he's definitely more Eco and budget conscious and way more Alice Waters worthy. Who in their right mind would've thought to waste the first bounty of spring after such a cold winter?
Nach Waxman also said that a good cook never follows a recipe to a T. She flips through a few books, gets an idea, puts the books back on the shelf and starts cooking. Well, that's exactly what I did. I got the gist for what goes into a tasty asparagus soup and then found my own path of righteousness.
Preheat the oven to 400, then grab, say, 2.5 lbs. of asparagus, 4-5 large shallots, 3 garlic cloves, a few sprigs of thyme, some salt, some pepper and a bottle of olive oil.
Wash the asparagus and snap off the dry ends by holding a stalk of asparagus at each end and bending - AW says it will break at the perfect spot. Slice up the shallots and press the garlic. Throw them into a roasting pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper and splash a healthy dose of olive oil over the whole thing. Toss it all together - make sure everything is nicely coated with oil - and pop in the oven for about 15 minutes.
Once the asparagus are nicely roasted, cut them in half and throw the entire mixture into a food processor. Add a good amount of chicken stock to the processor and pulse until it's nicely pureed. Move it all to a pot, turn on the heat and add a bit more stock for texture, a squeeze of fresh lemon and some salt and pepper if you need it.
To serve, ladle a helping into a soup bowl, then sprinkle a bit of Parmesan cheese and add a few strands of fresh lemon zest. My baby girl was lapping it up like it was ice cream. Enjoy!
Approximate Dinner Cost
• Well, this wasn't exactly a meal, but we ate it for lunch with grilled cheese for four days straight so eight bowls of soup came to about $2.25 per bowl. Not bad considering the asparagus soup at our local gourmet grocer is $8 for 2 servings.
*Author's Request - I just have to ask for a pat on the back for finally figuring out how to take a decent picture with my Sony Cybershot. However, I'm still trying to master getting one of my motion-filled 17 month old!