There’s no better way to show off good quality, fresh ingredients than by preparing them simply and serving them with minimal fuss. It’s one of the reasons I love eating seasonally, particularly those fruits and vegetables that haven’t travelled far to get to my plate; and at this time of year, there’s plenty of fresh produce about that require very little effort to bring out their best.
White asparagus is, as I’m sure those of you who’ve spent any time in Germany at this time of year will agree, one of those vegetables. Yes, you can do all sorts of complicated things with a handful of fresh asparagus spears and they’ll taste nothing short of fantastic, but Germany’s white gold is truly at its best dished up looking not too different from how it came out of the earth. However, if you’re looking to step up your Spargel game, you need only handful more ingredients to truly impress your dinner guests. Introducing Spargelcremesuppe, or white asparagus cream soup.
I’ll readily admit I’m not much of a delicate soup fan, preferring big, hearty, bold-flavoured affairs, but 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 seasonal 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. Well, possibly.
The recipe below is adapted from my trusty German cookbook Küchenschätze. Though this sort of soup often calls for just the peelings to make the stock with, 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 farmers’ markets (ask for Suppenspargel, literally ‘soup Spargel’). These are the spears that aren’t deemed good enough for serving whole on the plate but are more than adequate for making soup with. When you’re making stock with asparagus, 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 annoying 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.
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, snap off their woody ends and peel each one carefully (you’re using the peel for stock, which is why you need to wash it). Put all the ends and bits of peel 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.