According to the calendar, spring officially arrived several weeks ago, but you’d never know it from our weather here in New England. Yes, we had a few days where the temperature actually reached into the fifties, but mostly it’s been damp and cold, and no one is rushing to put away their winter gear.
Even though it’s still hovering in the low forties outside, I’m tired of winter cooking and ready to spring forward in my kitchen. This week, for instance, I made an ethereally smooth asparagus and leek soup, lightened it with lemon-scented crème fraîche, then added a sprinkle of snipped chives.
The soup turned out to be ideal for this transitional time of the year. Prepared with asparagus and chives, two verdant reminders of the new season, it was warm and creamy, but also refreshingly light. Serve it as a first course or make it the centerpiece of an easy supper. Add a salad of romaine, mint, and ricotta to round out the menu, and watch spring magically arrive at your table.
Asparagus Soup with Lemon Crème Fraîche and Chives
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts only
1 1/2 pounds slim asparagus, 2 inches of tough stems removed and spears cut into 1–inch pieces
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock
3/4 cup crème fraîche
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1/4 cup toasted bread crumbs (recipe follows)
1. Heat the butter in a large, heavy pot (with a lid) over medium heat. When hot, add the leeks and stir and cook until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the asparagus pieces and stir to coat with butter for 2 minutes. Add the stock, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Reduce the heat, and cover. Cook at a simmer until the asparagus are tender when pierced with a sharp knife, 15 to 20 minutes. Season the soup with 1 teaspoon of salt or to taste.
2. Puree the soup in batches in a food processor, blender, or food mill. Or use an immersion blender to purée the soup in the pot.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the crème fraîche and lemon zest. Whisk half of the crème fraîche into the soup and save the remainder for the garnish. (Soup can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat over medium heat.)
4. Ladle the soup into 6 soup bowls, and garnish each serving with a dollop of the remaining lemon crème fraiche. Sprinkle each serving with some chives and bread crumbs.
Serves 6 with one-cup portions, 4 with larger servings.
Toasted Bread Crumbs
Use a 1- to 2-day-old good quality peasant or country bread (sourdough works particularly well) with crusts removed, and process enough slices or pieces in a food processor to make 1 cup coarse crumbs.
To toast the bread crumbs, heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a medium, heavy frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add the crumbs and cook, stirring constantly, until they are crisp and rich golden brown, for 3 to 4 minutes. Extra bread crumbs can be stored in a plastic self-sealing bag and refrigerated for up to 1 week.
Makes 1 cup
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2013