Thursday, August 24, 2006
There’s something about the bright, happy green of asparagus that shouts “Springtime!” no matter what time of year it may be.
I like asparagus, I freely admit it. It’s one green vegetable that I will happily eat whenever it’s available, no matter that it makes for Stinky Asparagus Pee afterwards. White asparagus is excellent as well; some people prefer its delicate flavor to that of green asparagus, and in Europe, it’s pretty much the only game in town. But most of the time, I find myself going for the green.
Asparagus is good steamed; I use a steamer that holds the stalks so that their bases sit in the boiling water, thus tenderizing them. Or you can boil it. Some like it hot with Hollandaise sauce; I prefer it chilled with a drizzle of white truffle-scented olive oil. For a real summertime treat, marinate it in olive oil with a little kosher salt, then throw it on the grill until the stalks are tender and lightly charred. A quick grind of pepper, and you’re good to go.
With the hot weather this time of year - yes, it’s still summer - there’s nothing like a bright green, cold soup to refresh and recharge the ol’ Bodily Battery. Here’s a recipe that I tried last night for the first time, and it looks like a winner...packed with flavor and easy on the eyes. And it’s easy to make, requiring only about ten minutes. The only cooking involved is a brief blanching of the asparagus to kick its bright green color up a few notches.
It is Asparagus Gazpacho, a recipe that is practically Zen-like in its simplicity.
6 (1-cup) servings
1 pound fresh asparagus, tough ends removed
½ pound leek tops, medium to dark green parts only, rinsed well
1 large green bell pepper, seeds and white membrane removed
¼ cup tightly packed fresh basil
4 cloves fresh garlic
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup cold water
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup white wine vinegar
Blanch asparagus in boiling water for 20 to 30 seconds, until it turns very bright green; immediately immerse it in ice-cold water to shock it. In a blender or food processor, purée the asparagus, leek tops, bell pepper, basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese and water until the soup is well-combined and smooth. Add the seasoned salt, sea salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar and pulse to combine. Adjust seasonings and thickness as desired and chill until serving time.
You may want to add part of the vinegar and taste-test the soup before adding more, as vinegars vary widely in potency. You want a gazpacho that’s tangy without being overwhelmingly acidic.
Like may cold soups of this type, this will benefit from being made in advance in order to allow the flavors time to marry. Serve it at a dinner party or throw it in a thermos to have during your lunch break - however you enjoy it, it will put a springtime in your step!