Cream soups always seem institutional, the purview of cans and dining halls. At their best, they are comforting carb and fat bombs, warming us on cold, wet days. But cream soups have never been an expression of the Socratic ideal of their centerpiece, be it broccoli, mushrooms or asparagus.
When I first started working with Alice Waters’ asparagus soup recipe, it was a revelation. Potatoes and onions, not cream or flour, thicken the soup, delivering heartiness without dulling the flavor. The flavor of spring’s fresh asparagus is brought front and center by first simmering the tough ends of the stalks in stock and then cooking the tender ends of the asparagus for as short a time as possible, 5-7 minutes, before running the soup through a food mill or processing it with an immersion blender.
Two pounds of asparagus seems like a lot, but after all, this is asparagus soup and you want that to be the primary flavor. Over time I’ve learned that the soup almost always benefits from a tablespoon or two of rich, farm-fresh butter for richness and a splash of sherry vinegar to brighten the vegetables. Spoil yourself with a dollop of crème fraîche.
Creamy Asparagus Soup
- 2 bunches asparagus, about 2 pounds
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tbs chopped parsley, reserve stems
- 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 2 medium red potatoes, diced
- 2 leeks, white and light green parts thinly sliced
- Sherry vinegar
- Fresh parsley
- Snap tough ends from asparagus. Add to a 4 qt saucepan with stock, thyme, bay and parsley stems. Simmer for 20 minutes.
- Melt butter in a soup pot over medium-low heat. Simmer potatoes and leeks in butter without browning. Add a little water as needed. Cook until potatoes are soft.
- Strain stock into soup pot and cook for five minutes. Cut asparagus into 2” pieces and add to stock. Remove 10-12 tips after 3 minutes.
- When asparagus is just tender – no more than 5-7 minutes total – pass soup through a food mill* or processor. Stir through parsley.
- Season to taste with salt, pepper, butter and vinegar. Garnish with asparagus tips and fresh parsley.
*If you use a food mill, you will end up with a smoother soup, but some of the fibrous asparagus will be left behind. Add the stock back in a little at a time until you achieve the desired thickness.