Celebrate Springtime with Asparagus! — Asparagus Soup

Asparagus Soup served as a
first course with Spicy Saltines.
        In need of a springtime soup, I asked Joann Hettenbach if she had any suggestions. Without batting a eye, she immediately responded, “Mary Rickley’s asparagus soup!” So I contacted Mary and she sent the recipe . . . along with this story. “I found the recipe some time ago on the internet when I helped June Nold, Betty Lewis and Joan prepare a meal.”  The meal was one they offered at an Arts Council auction to help fund that organization.
     After just one bite, I understood why Joann recommended the soup. It is delicious and full of springtime flavor!
     (P.S. I did search the internet trying to find the original source of the recipe to no avail.)

Asparagus Soup  
Shallots (pictured above) are members
of the onion family; they taste sweet,
with a slightly spicy kick.
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 strips bacon, cut in 1/2 " pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large shallot, chopped
2 lb. fresh asparagus
8 oz. fresh spinach, washed & chopped (The spinach can be omitted but it makes the soup a nice green color. I actually used about 4 oz. instead of 8.) 
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 to 3/4 cup heavy cream
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper 

1.     Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or large saucepan. Add bacon pieces and cook until crisp.  Remove bacon pieces and reserve, leaving bacon fat and oil in pot. 
Bacon is crisp and ready to remove from pot.
2.     Add chopped onion and shallot. Sauté until they turn slightly caramelized. 
Onions and the shallot are slightly caramelized and ready for step 3.
3.     While onions are cooking, prepare asparagus: Trim and discard woody ends, Cut the asparagus tips and set aside. Then, cut asparagus into 1" pieces. 
Bend the asparagus stalk and it will naturally break at the tender point; discard the woody stalk.
Notice that the heads of the asparagus spears have been cut off as they will later be steamed and used for garnish.
4.     Add the asparagus pieces and chopped spinach to the onions; sauté for one minute. 
I actually sautéed it until spinach began to wilt -- probably an extra 2 or 3 minutes.
5.     Pour in broth and let simmer for around 15 minutes. 
My test for doneness -- asparagus stalks  should be completely soft; time may vary
depending on the thickness of the stalks.
6.     While asparagus simmers (step 5), blanche asparagus tips in boiling water for 2 minutes. (I actually put mine in a micro-safe container, added about a tablespoons of water, covered them and microwaved for a couple of minutes).  Drain and immediately rinse with cold water and set aside.
7.     Blend to puree the soup until creamy. 
The blender is the tool for pureeing the soup! I tried an immersion blender but it did NOT
create the creamy consistency I was looking for. Hint -- if using a blender, cool the soup and make sure you don't add too much soup to the work bowl at one time.
8.     Then add cream to your taste and season with salt and pepper.
9.     Garnish soup with generous sprinkles of the asparagus tips and crisped bacon bits.

Make Ahead Notes: Here's what I did to make this soup ahead . . .
For immediate use: I followed the recipe steps 1-7 and put the soup base in the refrigerator. Right before serving I heated up the base, added cream and garnished the soup (steps 8-9).
To make and freeze: Follow steps 1-4, cool mixture and freeze. I also completed step #6 --freezing the asparagus tips. When ready to make soup, thaw asparagus and onion blend and also asparagus tips. Proceed with recipe according to specified directions. (I actually bought asparagus when on sale and made prepared multiple batches of this mixture for later use.)
Soup is served! In this case it was a first course offering, served in the china cups that go with our wedding china.
For information on asparagus purchase, nutrition and cooking, check out this article -- Asparagus: A Springtime Celebration.

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