When asparagus season arrives, the world is divided into two camps: those who peel and those who don’t. I am in the former camp. I even have a peeler just for asparagus, And although I did the very French method of tying spears into little bundles and gently poaching them in water, my default technique has been the Italian one of quickly pan roasting them in my much loved carbon steel oval fry pan. And there is an Asparagus Flan that usually appears on my Easter Menu.
Yesterday I discovered an old recipe (1995) from Gourmet that creates a soup using a broth made from the ends that normally go into your compost canister or in the disposal, while the stalks and tips create the soup’s main body. But the surprising aspect was a basil infused cream that was used as a garnish, but I think is better as a final infusion into the soup. It can be served, hot, room temperature or cold. Try it, you too will love the brightness in flavor that basil gives to asparagus.
2.5 cups water
1 large white onion in rough dice
1-2 tbs unsalted butter
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 tsp sea salt
Snap off the ends of your asparagus and slice off the tips. You should have three piles – stalk ends, tips and stalks. Simmer the asparagus ends in the 2.5 cups water in a covered saucepan for 15-20 minutes. Remove and discard the ends. Bring the water to a boil and add the asparagus tips. Cook these uncovered over high heat until crisp-tender, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer the tips to a colander and rinse under cold water. Save the water in the sauce pan. That is your asparagus broth.
In a 4 quart saute pan, saucepan or stew pan, cook the onions in butter with salt and pepper (to taste) over moderate heat, stirring until pale gold. Add asparagus stalks, reserved cooking water, and chicken broth; simmer covered 15 minutes or until asparagus pieces are tender.
Make basil cream by bringing cream to boil, and stirring in basil and salt. Cook mixture until basil is wilted. This will take seconds, not minutes. Puree this with the asparagus mixture in blender or processor. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper (I use white Muntok pepper for this soup) You can add the asparagus tips to the soup before serving, or you can puree them and swirl them into the soup.You can garnish with crushed pink peppercorns and creme fraiche as pictured.