White Asparagus Cream Soup | Spargelcremesuppe (recipe)

A bowl of white asparagus cream soup

One of the reasons I love eating fresh produce in season, particularly those fruits and vegetables that haven’t travelled far to get to my plate, is that it requires very little effort in the kitchen to bring out their best on a plate. White asparagus is, for me, a prime example: yes, you can do all sorts of complicated things with a handful of spears and they’ll likely taste fabulous, but Germany’s white gold is at its best dished up looking not too different from how it came out of the earth. If you’re looking to step up your Spargel game, however, or trying to win over someone adverse to the stuff, try adding more ingredients and a bit of elbow grease at the stove to really impress your dinner guests.

This simple early summer soup really is something special. It sits at the opposite end of the scale to the rustic winter soups I usually prefer; a light yet luxurious starter, and one that’s totally deceptive, too.  Spargelcremesuppe costs very little to make and requires far less effort than it you’d think, yet it’s a dish that’ll have your guests declare your kitchen prowess worthy of a Michelin star. (Possibly.)

The recipe below is adapted from my trusty German cookbook Küchenschätze. This sort of soup often calls for just the peelings to make the stock with, but this particular recipe requires the peelings for the base plus the rest of the spears, too. However, when it comes to buying white asparagus for soup, you don’t need to buy the fat, expensive stuff: you can usually pick up bags of broken or bent spears at the market which are more than adequate for making stock with (ask for Suppenspargel, literally ‘soup Spargel’). It really doesn’t matter what the spears look like, just as long as they’re fresh.

On first reading, this recipe might seem like a bit of work, but I promise you it’s not (I made it on Saturday night in total chaos, chatting to my sister-in-law, feeding two toddlers and making a lemon tart). In terms of preparation, the asparagus requires only peeling and chopping, and minimal attention is required at the stove. Passing the soup through a sieve might sounds laborious and unnecessary but it’s really no bother at all; plus it’s totally worth the extra effort for a silky smooth soup – and the reception it’ll get from your guests.

A row of white asparagus wrapped in damp cloth

White Asparagus Cream Soup

Serves 6

750g white asparagus
1½ tsp salt
1½ tsp sugar
4½ tbsp butter
3 tbsp plain flour (or 3½ tbsp rice flour for a gluten-free soup)
150ml white wine (or 150ml vegetable stock plus 1½ tbsp lemon juice)
225ml single cream
Small bunch of fresh chives or chervil, finely chopped
Salt and pepper

First prepare the white asparagus: wash the spears and peel each one carefully (you’re using the peel for stock, which is why you need to wash it).  If your asparagus is fresh enough that the ends are wet – they should be when you buy them – you won’t need to snap them off. Put the bits of peel (and any ends) into a pan with 1.5l water, the salt and the sugar and bring to the boil.  Simmer on a low heat for 20 minutes before draining through a sieve into a large bowl.  Compost your peelings; leave the stock to cool.

Slice off the tips of the asparagus spears just below the head – approximately 3-4cm asparagus – slice each piece lengthways and set to one side.  Cut the rest of the spears into shorter pieces.  Melt 3 tbsp of the butter in wide pan that will be large enough to take all the stock, and add the asparagus pieces (but not the tips).  Sauté over a medium heat for a couple of minutes, then add the flour.  Stir and allow to sweat a little before adding the wine to deglaze the pan; then add the stock.  Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Once the asparagus pieces are soft (check by poking one with a sharp knife), remove from the heat and use a stick blender to purée them into the stock.  Once you’ve got rid off all the lumps of asparagus, pour the purée through a sieve, using a wooden spoon to push it through and also to scrape any clinging liquid off the underside, and return your soup to the pan.  Stir in the cream, season with salt, pepper and sugar to taste and reheat gently.

Finally, melt the remaining butter in a frying pan and slowly cook the asparagus tips for about 5 minutes, till they’re golden brown round the edges.  Ladle the soup into bowls, dropping in 3 or 4 asparagus tips per person and sprinkling on some chopped herbs to garnish.

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