Sunday, May 1, 2011

Asparagus Soup

Chicago winters last a long time. I don't mind the low temperatures or the snow. (I spent my early childhood in Canada.) But the gray skies that persist from late November through mid-April are another thing. For five months, Mother Nature experiments with nearly every shade of gray: steel gray, bluish-gray, pinkish-gray, the list goes on. In December, the dreary skies are bearable because most of us are distracted by the commotion of the holidays and the promise of the New Year. Snow is a novelty, a delight, really, compared to the late fall landscape - bare trees, dead leaves, tired brown grass. 

In January, snow blankets the ground and the sky is often a whitish-gray, making the horizon hard to find. We continue to take pleasure in fresh snow, packing it into snowballs, rolling into snowmen, listening for the crunch under our feet. By February, we begin to feel sapped by the lack of color and days being book marked by darkness. We boast of our Midwest hardiness, but deep inside, we long for winter’s spell to be lifted. March brings about the cracking point. We feel crazed by weeks without sun, so crazed we expect a ground hog to bring about winter’s end. Still, we keep our spring clothes in storage and goggle “beach vacations” should it linger on.

Early April brings forth the tempestuous side of spring - fits of rain, temperature dips, and crabby skies. We replace boots with waterproof shoes and scarves with umbrellas. The snow melts away, leaving weathered sidewalks and naked trees. Not the sort of change we've ached for. Then slowly, amidst the chill and sullenness, golden clouds begin to huddle among the trees; their soft contours and luminous color countering months of monotony. 

In fact, the clouds turn out to be bouquets of tiny yellow flowers with bright green stems. Their colors blend into the new birth green that appears only in spring, and "is Her (nature's) hardest hue to hold" as Robert Frost concluded. Within days, rain scatters many of the bouquets over sidewalks and into gutters, spreading fragments of color from the sky to the ground.

Daffodils and dandelions usher in even more green and gold. As the grass gets a solid footing, the trees toss off hundreds of tiny golden petals, inaugurating the end of winter’s long reach with the regality of a royal wedding.



This time of year, when the heater continues to kick on, there are days I crave the comfort of soup. This dish, which blends asparagus, artichokes, and leeks, offers warmth while capturing the freshness of spring. I like to include the eggs, cooked until the yolks are silky. But the soup is full-flavored without them. Also, if you're itching to make your own bread, take a look at Jim Lahey's book. He makes it remarkably easy. Really, you'll be amazed.

Also, here's a helpful video on prepping leeks.

Serves 6-8


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium leek
2 pounds of asparagus, washed
1 teaspoon minced garlic
4 cups (or two 14.5 cans) vegetable broth
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 jar (6.5 ounce) marinated artichoke hearts
6 eggs
Pecorino cheese as garnish


Slice away the dark green portion of the leek. Cut the white base into disks widthwise. Place the pieces in a bowl and cover them with water. Rinse until all of the silt is removed. Drain.

Chop off the ends of the asparagus. With a peeler, remove the outer skin from the woody section (usually the bottom 2 inches or so). Chop the spears into 2-inch pieces.

Heat the oil in Dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat. Add the leek. Cook for 3 minutes. Add the asparagus, garlic, stock, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until the asparagus is tender. Let cool for 5 minutes.

Place the eggs in a pot and cover them with water. Bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and cover the pot with a lid. After 5 minutes, transfer the eggs to a bowl of cold water. Let them cool for 3 minutes. Peel the eggs.

Place the artichokes and 2 cups of soup in a blender or food processor. Puree. Stir it back into soup.

Ladle the soup into bowls. Top each bowl with a sliced egg and a sprinkling of cheese. Serve with crusty bread.

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