Asparagus is one of spring’s delights

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

Asparagus is not a Johnny-come-lately vegetable that needs a booster campaign. No one has ever suggested turning it into chips to make it more palatable.

The ancient Greeks and Romans were extolling the culinary and medicinal virtues of asparagus more than 2,000 years ago. Julius Caesar ate these succulent shoots, asking for them to be served with melted butter. There is even a recipe for asparagus in a Roman cookbook from the fourth century.

The Romans were not content with just eating them in season. Fast chariots and runners took them to the snowline of the Alps where they were kept frozen for six months until the Feast of Epicurus.

Local asparagus is abundant now in York County markets. Because I have a good crop in my garden this year, I have been eating them almost every day.

Unlike the Romans, I prefer to eat mine fresh while in season. In addition to lightly steaming them as a side dish, I like to put them in pasta sauces and savory pies.

The ultimate dish, though, is asparagus soup, in which asparagus doesn’t share the spotlight with a lot of other ingredients.

Full-flavored asparagus soup requires more than just tossing a bunch of stalks in a blender and adding cream. Making a stock from the vegetable itself yields a soup that intensifies the asparagus flavor exponentially.

For the asparagus lovers, it’s well worth the time.

Asparagus soup

11/2 pounds asparagus

3 leeks

1 bay leaf

1 carrot, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

8 cups cold water

3 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1/2 cup light cream

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

white pepper

To make the stock: Snap the lower end of the asparagus where they break easily when bent. Rinse the ends well and roughly chop them into 1-inch pieces.

Cut the leeks, reserving the lower white parts. Wash the leek greens well and coarsely chop them.

Combine the asparagus ends, leek greens, carrot, celery and water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer 20-25 minutes, and then strain.

To make the soup: Cut off the tips of the asparagus and set aside. Chop the stems into 1-inch pieces. Thinly slice the white part of the leeks and wash well and then drain.

Melt the butter in a soup pot, add the leeks, and cook over medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes until the leeks soften. Add the asparagus stems, salt and parsley. Pour in 5 cups of stock and bring to a boil; simmer until asparagus is just tender, about 6 minutes.

Blend the soup with an immersion or regular blender. Return the soup to the pot and stir in the cream. If necessary, thin with additional stock. Add the lemon zest. Taste for salt and pepper.

In another pot, bring a few cups of water to a boil with a little salt. Cook the asparagus tips 11/2 to 2 minutes until tender. Drain and add them to the soup.

Bring soup to a gentle simmer before serving.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.