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Celebrate spring with some fresh and tasty asparagus soup

Asparagus can be steamed, boiled, stir-fried, roasted, baked, grilled, or broiled. Pretty much any way you can cook a vegetable.
Tasty asparagus soup is topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and blanched asparagus tips. CHEYENNE COHEN VIA THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

What better ingredient for a spring meal than a seasonal favourite like asparagus? It’s at the top of my can’t-wait-for-spring vegetable list.

Asparagus can be steamed, boiled, stir-fried, roasted, baked, grilled, or broiled. Pretty much any way you can cook a vegetable.

It is harvested from February to June in various locales, with March and April being prime season in most places.

In stores or at farmer’s markets, look for asparagus that is not too dried out at the cut ends. The tips should be tightly closed, without fraying or damage. The stalks should be firm and smooth, other than the tiny petal leaves that emerge. If the asparagus smells off, or looks wrinkled, withered or slimy, skip it.

To store asparagus, trim off an inch or so from the bottom and place the shoots in a tall, wide glass, vase or measuring cup with a couple of inches of water. Loosely cover the tops with a plastic bag and store in the fridge for three to seven days.

Before it’s cooked, a rinse under cold water is usually all that asparagus needs. If you are preparing it using a dry heat method, like roasting or grilling, dry it before cooking.

Asparagus usually cooks in about six to 14 minutes, depending on the cooking method, the thickness of the stalks and, of course, how tender or crisp you like it. Remember, it will continue to “cook” and soften after it leaves the heat.

The most traditional kitchen technique for trimming asparagus is to hold the stalk in the middle and near the bottom end and snap it. This removes the woody and fibrous bottom few inches of the stalk.

I think that method wastes more stalk than necessary, especially if you are preparing thick asparagus. Better to simply take a vegetable peeler and peel the thick green outer layer from the bottom 3 inches or so of the stalk. For thin asparagus, just cut off the bottom inch or so.

Cooking methods

Steaming: Put the asparagus on a rack or in a basket suspended over simmering water in a pot with the lid on. If you don’t have a steamer apparatus, add them to just a small amount of water simmering in a covered pot.

Boiling: Simply include more water in the pot than you would for steaming. I prefer steaming, as I feel less of the flavor is lost to the cooking water.

Blanching: Cook the asparagus briefly in boiling water, then immediately drain the water and plunge the vegetable into ice water. This softens it slightly but then stops the cooking, sealing in the bright green color.

Roasting: One of my favorite ways to cook asparagus. Its natural sugars are concentrated by the oven’s high heat, and you get a lovely golden exterior. I roast them at 400 to 425 degrees F.

Grilling: Just make sure to position the spears perpendicular to the grates so you don’t lose any. Or use a grill basket.

Raw: If your asparagus is very fresh, you can slice the spears and use them raw in salads or as part of a vegetable (crudité) platter. Peel or trim off tough ends or the thicker skins at the bottom.

And if you have extra asparagus, lucky you — it freezes beautifully, especially if it’s been blanched, which locks in the best texture and color.

Asparagus Soup

Makes: Six servings

2 lbs thin asparagus

3 Tbsp unsalted butter

2 onions, chopped

2 stalks celery, sliced

* Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 tsp fresh minced thyme leaves or 1/2 tsp dried

1 small potato, peeled and diced

3 cups chicken or vegetable broth

1 cup light or heavy cream

* Freshly grated Parmesan to serve

Trim off the bottom inch of the asparagus stalks, or any amount that seems woody, and discard. Place about half of the asparagus in a line on a cutting board and trim off the top 1 inch. Set those tips aside. Cut the rest of the spears into two-inch pieces.

Melt the butter in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and celery, season with salt and pepper, and sauté for about five minutes until the onions are soft and lightly golden. Add the thyme, potatoes and broth.

Turn the heat to high, bring the soup to a simmer, add the pieces of asparagus (reserving the tips), and then lower the heat and partially cover the pot. (Place the lid so there is a roughly 1-inch gap for steam to escape). Simmer the soup until the asparagus is very tender, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the reserved asparagus tips into a small saucepan with 1/2 cup water. Cover the pot, bring the water to a boil over high heat, simmer for one minute, then drain and run the asparagus tips under very cold water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.

Puree the soup with an immersion blender in the pot, or in batches in a food processor or blender. If it doesn’t seem silky smooth, you can pass it through a mesh strainer, pressing the soup through and discarding any solids that are strained out. Return the soup to the pot, add the cream and heat over medium heat. Taste and adjust seasonings as you like.

When the soup is hot throughout (don’t let it come to a boil!), serve in bowls garnished with Parmesan and the blanched asparagus tips. Top with a bit of additional freshly ground pepper, if desired.

Katie Workman writes regularly about food for The Associated Press. She has written two cookbooks focused on family-friendly cooking, Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook.

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