Asparagus Soup with Crisp Asparagus Rolls
A few weeks ago Mr.P and I went to spend a night in Nine Elms….. No it’s no horror story, no ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ but it was actually a night shift at New Covent Garden Night Market to celebrate British Asparagus. We went along to support Ruth Holbrook and the rest of the New Covent Garden market team who had organised the whole event to cook a few asparagus delights. Ruth even arranged for a beautiful ice sculpture (kindly donated by the ice box) to be made with the NCGM logo and a few bunches of asparagus embedded in the ice, it was pretty spectacular.
We arrived at 1am and with only 1 1/2 hours sleep we were both slightly delirious, it was a bitterly cold morning and one found it rather difficult to believe it was spring. As you can see some of my photos were slightly shaky, I’m not one hundred percent sure if that is down to me shivering due to the cold or the lack of sleep or too much coffee, it could be a combination of all three.
Anyhow we had fun and that was the main aim, we cooked three delicious recipes and it was a sheer joy to watch the “locals”, market stall holders and customers tucking in. It was convincing enough and our tactics worked as some customers were inspired to go and buy boxes of asparagus.
The arrival of the British asparagus season is a joyous one as it’s almost an indication that summer is on it’s way. British Asparagus is classed as the best in the world and is corroborated by our national consumption figures, which shows that we have a healthy appetite for these delicate stems. Most people still class asparagus as a delicacy and when the British season starts it features with pride on most restaurant menus. The season normally runs from May till June, but with the very cold winter and a chilly and slow start to the spring the British asparagus season has suffered slightly.
There are many classic asparagus recipes and a few ingredients that are synonymous pairing with asparagus and just to mention a few :- egg, mayonnaise and Parma ham. Asparagus requires care and attention when cooking, it needs to be quick to prevent over cooking, which will spoil the taste and cause discolouration.
I have recreated the asparagus soup that I cooked for the NCGM event in May. The method is straight forward as I cook the soup base with plenty of onions, sliced potatoes, white wine and stock. Once the soup base is ready I pan fry the asparagus stalks and heads quickly in olive oil and blend it all together with a dash of double cream. I use as much of the asparagus spear as possible, the only part that is not edible is the very tip of the stalk which is woody and tough.
Visiting New Covent Garden Market brought back plenty of lovely memories of when I was a young chef working in London. I worked for a short while at a delicatessen where we used to go to the market early in the morning to buy our ingredients. We used to do that twice a week and for busy weekends when we had functions I made the odd third trip too. As a real girl liking all pretty things in life we used to stop every now and then at the flower market next door to indulge in the array and display of colour. The fruit and vegetable market was just as impressive as I remembered it with large piles of vegetables beautifully displayed.
The menu for the NCGM event was:
Cream of Asparagus Soup
Asparagus wrapped in Parma Ham with a wasabi dip
Bruchetta with Asparagus spears and Gribiche
Ruth Holbrook compiled a leaflet with asparagus fun facts, with her consent I thought that it would be good to share these fun facts with you:
- Purple asparagus is a different variety and it is sweeter and softer than green.
- Wild or Bath asparagus(also know as spiked star of Bethlehem) is a rare plant found mainly around the City of Bath.
- White asparagus is our green favourite which has been deprived of sunlight and is very popular in Europe where it’s know as “white gold”.
- The Asparagus season is closely guarded by growers, with the first outside crops in late April (weather permitting) to the last on the Summer solstice. Every spear harvested after that depletes the flavour of the next years crop, this might explain why other countries’ asparagus isn’t so tasty.
- The aphrodisiac quality of asparagus is much touted, it was claimed by herbalist Nicholas Culpepper in the 1600′s to ‘stir up lust in man and woman’, and has been used as such ever since.It is recommend to eat it for three consecutive days to maximize the libido-enhancing effect!
- Different areas of Britain have distinct asparagus-growing qualities over others – Isle of Wight asparagus gets above average light and warmth so the season comes in early. Norfolk asparagus grows slowly giving it an intense flavour.
- In wholesale markets asparagus is called “grass”. This does not refer to how it looks or is grown, but comes from the 17th century folk slang which altered the latin word ‘asparagus’ into the more Anglo-friendly ‘Sparrowgrass’ – the name has stuck.
- Asparagus is not really a vegetable, it is in fact a member of the Lilly family, along with tulips and hyacinths.
- 35g unsalted butter
- 150g onion, sliced
- 150g potato, peeled and finely sliced
- Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- 200g dry white wine
- 500g vegetable or white chicken stock
- 100ml double cream
- 250g asparagus spears stalks and all chopped
- 2 tbs olive oil
Heat the butter in a large saucepan and sauté the onions and potato with seasoning until transparent, use a lid to help the softening process and to prevent the onions and potatoes from colouring.
De-glaze the pan with the wine and cook until the wine becomes sticky and reduced.
Add the stock, bring the soup to a gentle simmer and cook until the potatoes are soft, add the cream, bring the soup back to the simmer for 5 minutes and transfer the soup to a blender.
Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan and sauté the asparagus for 3 – 4 minutes with seasoning to soften them slightly.
Add the sautéed asparagus to the soup base and blend until smooth, taste and adjust the seasoning if needed and serve immediately.
Food Fanatics Tip:
This asparagus soup is equally delicious served either hot or cold. If you would like to serve the soup cold then it ‘s very important to chill the soup as quickly as possible as it will discolour and lose it’s bright green colour, place the soup in a container into ice water, this way it will cool quickly.
Crisp Asparagus Filo Rolls
- 16 thin asparagus spears
- 50g unsalted butter melted
- 2 sheets of filo pastry
- Pinch of sumac
- Pinch of Ras-el-hanout
Pre-heat the oven to 160ºC and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
Prepare the asparagus: cut them into 8cm long spears and use the remainder of the stalk in the soup.
Cut the filo pastry into 6cm x 12cm strips, lightly brush with melted butter sprinkle with the sumac and ras-el-hanout.
Place an asparagus spear on one end, leave the head exposed and roll each spear up in the lightly buttered filo pastry.
Do the same with the rest of the asparagus spears.
Bake them for 15 – 18 minutes until crisp, serve immediately with the hot asparagus soup.
Food Fanatics Tip:
These crisp asparagus filo rolls can be made up to two days in advance but do not bake them until needed. They are also delicious served either hot or cold.
Serve the hot soup in a bowl and garnish it with teaspoons full of fresh curd cheese, olive oil and fresh thyme leaves and serve the crisp asparagus filo rolls on the side.