Saturday, May 10, 2014

Cream of Asparagus Soup with Rice

I was never a fan of vegetables when I was a kid.  (Truthfully, I was not a fan of anything green when I was a kid.)  Over time, my views and opinions about green food have changed and evolved.  No vegetable represents that change more than the asparagus.  

The cultivation of asparagus dates back to ancient history.  In fact, the name "asparagus" is Greek for "sprout" or "shoot."  The Greeks gathered wild asparagus for dishes, as did ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians.  However, those wild green fleshing sprouts were especially popular during Roman times.  The Romans were the first to grow and cultivate the sprouts, especially around the Tiber River region.  After the harvest, Roman cooks would have made dishes such as aliter patina de asparagis frigida (Cold Asparagus with Woodock) or other recipes, like the one that appeared Apicius' 3rd century cookbook, De Re Coquinaria.

While the Romans loved those spears, I used to hate them.  I shunned them whenever they made a presence on the plate.  That began to change a few years ago. The principal reason is that I found a way to cook it that really appeals to me ... grilling.  Marinate the stalks in a little olive oil, with some herbs, lemon juice and salt.  After a short period of time, throw them on the grill, turn a few times, and you have a very tasty side dish. A dish that I could eat over and over again.

Recently, we hosted a dinner with a theme that featured recipes from Maryland.  The theme was America in Miniature, which featured recipes that highlight the produce and products of that wonderful state.  One such produce is the asparagus.  There are many farms, such as Godfrey's Farm in Queen Anne's County, that grow the spears.  Indeed, as recounted by Lucie Snodgrass in Dishing Up Maryland, Godfrey's Farm started out as an asparagus farm, cultivating and harvesting as much as 160 acres of the vegetable. The farm sold its produce principally to a plant owned by Green Giant in Delaware.  When the plant closed, Godfrey's Farm began making its harvest available to others, including consumers at farmers' markets.

For the dinner, we made a Cream of Asparagus Soup with Rice.  Asparagus seems to be an odd ingredient for a soup, but it worked.  However, what made this noteworthy was the use of rice.  The rice served to thicken the soup, eliminating the need for heavy cream.  Instead, just a couple of cups of whole milk were required to add that "dairy" element to the soup.  Overall, the soup turned out well.  I would make this recipe again, but, grilled asparagus remains my favorite way to eat those spears.

Recipe from Dishing up Maryland, page 24
Serves 6

2 pounds asparagus
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 cups of chicken stock or vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly black pepper
1/3 cup of white rice
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Creme fraiche (optional).

1.  Prepare the asparagus.  Rinse the asparagus well and pat dry.  Snap off and discard the tough ends.  Cut each of the asparagus spears into three pieces.  Place a dozen tips in a small dish and set aside.

2.  Prepare the base of the soup.  Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and saute, stirring constantly, until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the asparagus pieces and cook and stir for 2 minutes.  Add the stock, salt, pepper and rice; cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove from the heat.  

3.  Steam the asparagus tips.  Steam the reserved asparagus tips in a steamer for 3 minutes.  Plunge them in ice water, drain, pat dry and then slice each in half lengthwise.

4.  Finish the dish.  Puree the soup using a handheld immersion blender (or in batches using a blender), gradually adding the milk until all of it is blended into the soup.  Return the soup to the stove and heat it through.  Garnish each serving with the asparagus tips, chopped parsley and a dollop of creme fraiche if desired.


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