This makes an especially perfect light dinner either before or after the excesses of a holiday, family reunion, or wild weekend.
Whatever may constitute for you a wild weekend.
I am in heaven when I have (a) an entire day off that I get to (b) spend in my own kitchen. Whatever else I am doing, I also catch up on podcasts. One of my favorites is The Splendid Kitchen, hosted by the ebullient, inquisitive, self-deprecating Lynne Rosetto Kasper. She plays the part of the ingenue like no other as she makes chefs with whom she visits so comfortable that they talk to all of us on our level, bringing us to think, “I can do that.” By the time I have a day to myself in my kitchen, several shows have conveniently accumulated in iTunes, and I greedily listen to them one right after the other, with my food journal and a pen to hand so as to jot cryptic notes.
During one recent program, Lynne visited Chef Andrea Reusing of the restaurant Lantern (please visit her website!) in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Their conversation about the chef’s Turnip Soup was a revelation to me. It stopped me cold, no pun intended, right in the middle of cleaning the refrigerator. She prepares her soup in a base of water. Not stock. Not a stock that you should have started a couple of days ago, but didn’t so you’re feeling guilty, in order to be able to make soup tonight. No, water. Tap water.
In the midst of the conversation, Lynne mentions that she once worked for a chef who similarly preferred water as a medium for cooking vegetables, explaining, “water gives such clarity to the food.” I stopped the podcast, grabbed my latest red Moleskine (#3), replayed the sequence, and transcribed that quote. It was a lightbulb moment for me.
We’ve been inculcated that anything and everything must be cooked in a stock (and a trip down any grocery store’s Soup aisle will give you an idea of just how many chefs who think you should be making your own have conveniently put their names on some for you). I was instantly relieved to be relieved of the burden of needing to keep my freezer full of assorted stocks. And remember to thaw them. Not that they don’t have their place; it simply appears that it isn’t everywhere.
So the idea of cooking vegetables in water shook my little corner of the world. I needed to give it a road-test. And what better vehicle than a bunch of asparagus that was beginning to pass its prime that I’d discovered on my journey to the bowels of my refrigerator.
CHILLED ASPARAGUS SOUP
Serves 2, or 1 with leftovers
1 bunch of asparagus
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
32 ounces cold water
4 to 8 ounces buttermilk
Sea or kosher salt and pepper to taste
4 ounces (1/2 cup) Greek yogurt
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Sambal Olek or Sriracha to taste
Simmering the garlic right in the water with the asparagus is going to take the edge off its bite and sweeten it as well. Serving the soup chilled and adding cold buttermilk once it has been puréed are ideas that came to me on a 90-degree day when all I wanted to do that evening was sit outside and sip something cool and brightly flavored. First stir in the lesser amount of buttermilk, then taste and decide if more is needed.
- Wash the asparagus well. Those lovely little buds at the tip are notorious traps for sandy grit. Partially fill a (clean) sink with cold water and immerse the spears in it. Agitate them well. Lift them out into a colander and let them drain for a moment.
- Trim off the woody ends. If you are accustomed to bending each one individually so as to allow it to break at its own perfectly vulnerable point, you are a better person than I am. While I’m guilty of teaching that stocks should be used for everything but brewing coffee, I haven’t the patience to allow each spear of asparagus to discover its own breaking point. Leaving the whole bunch rubber-banded together, I hack off about a standard 3 inches from the bottom of the entire bunch, just above where the lower rubber band sits. Here is where I would advise you to save those ends for your stock bag, but if you don’t want to……well, then, don’t!
- Cut the spears into 1″ segments and place them in a stainless steel or other non-reactive pot (asparagus cooked in an aluminum pot will taste like aluminum foil, and also take on an unpleasant olive-green hue). Add the cold water and the smashed and peeled garlic cloves. Warm the pot over medium-high heat. When it comes to a gentle boil, reduce heat to a simmer. Don’t cover the pot with a lid; you want some of the water to reduce away to concentrate flavor. Simmer the soup until the thickest pieces of asparagus can be easily pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, about 15 – 20 minutes.
- To purée the soup, use a food processor, a blender, or ideally, and immersion
blender. I am not a gadget person. That said, I love my immersion blender. I can purée something such as this soup right in the pot in which it was cooked, and in the end, one long, thin object detaches and does into the dishwasher. Once the soup is a perfectly smooth consistency, season it to taste with salt and pepper. While you may decide to add more later, let the abundance of it dissolve when the soup is warm. If you wish to add a pinch of red pepper flakes, that’s a lovely idea. Fill a large bowl with lots of ice and some water, and set the pot straight into it to cool. Stir the soup occasionally until it reaches something below room temperature. You’re not trying to get it stone cold, but definitely below warm, about 60 degrees.
- Remove the pot from the water bath. Stir the buttermilk into the soup, and taste once more for seasoning. Add salt or pepper as needed.
- While the soup is cooling, in a small bowl stir together the Greek yogurt and lemon juice. Add Sambal Olek or Sriracha to taste.
- Ladle some of your beautiful soup into a bowl. Garnish with about a tablespoon of the seasoned yogurt.
It would be just splendid if you would kindly let me know if this changes how you view any aspect of the cooking of vegetables.