May 27, 2014
Spring-time’s Finest (Part 2)
Earlier in my career I was fortunate to live in Germany and at this time of year I fondly reminisce of that experience. I lived near the town of Spyer, reputed to be the “Spargel Kapital Das Welt”. In Germany, “Spargel” means asparagus, and that always means white asparagus. Green asparagus (known locally as “gruner Spargel”) is much less popular. Every spring the whole town, like many towns in that region, hosts a Spargelfest, or white asparagus festival. During this time just about every restaurant in town, for the whole week and some beyond, will offer a special “spargelkarte” or asparagus menu in addition to their regular menu.
That is just what inspires my dish for this month.
I was there one spring and popped into what looked like a very old and traditional restaurant, called Zum Erbsen Prinzen, just off the market square. I ordered the tasting menu of white asparagus, but what I remember most about that dinner was the soup. I had the most amazing veloute of white asparagus soup that was unlike anything else I had ever had. I never forgot that soup and years later I worked diligently to recreate it. It was amazingly smooth and served with a quenelle of unsweetened whipped cream topped with toasted and chopped pistachios. Stunningly simple, but the whipped cream slowly melded into the already light soup and created an amazingly delicate soup. I later added the smallest touch of Pernod to the soup and a little white truffle oil to the whipped cream bringing an earthiness that reminded me of driving by the endless asparagus mounds in the springtime.
I wanted to share this soup with you so you could make it in your restaurant or at home. I assure it will be a memorable surprise for your guests. Perhaps plan a menu around asparagus by mixing in some tender green pencil thin asparagus with other spring favorites such as morels, fiddlehead ferns, or fava beans. Pair a spring lamb with fresh mint demi glace or a Sauce Paloise, which is nothing more than a Béarnaise Sauce that uses mint in place of tarragon. Now that would really make for a memorable spring dinner!
Remember when cooking your white asparagus the big fat spears are much prized and in every case they must be peeled carefully. They will not bend like our green spears and have a nasty tendency to break if you don’t peel them gently. In Germany we used a special peeler, made just for white asparagus— and I still have mine. Don’t forget to blanch them in a “blanc”, or a fortified vegetable stock made with the peels along with whole milk added to the cooking liquid to help preserve the color and leech some of the bitterness out.
White Asparagus Soup
2 Lbs fresh white asparagus, peeled (reserve peels) chopped across the grain
1 Leek, white part only, diced
2 Tbsp whole butter
1 Cup of Noilly Prat dry white vermouth or dry white wine
1 Qt Minor’s Natural Gluten Free Chicken Base (prepared)
2 Cups heavy cream
2 Sprigs of tarragon
1 Fresh bay leaf
1 Dash of Pernod or Pastis
Sweat the leeks in whole butter, being careful not to add any color. Add diced white asparagus pieces, sauté until they start to soften, but do not brown. Add white wine and reduce by half. Add the prepared chicken stock to barely cover along with the tarragon and bay leaf. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until tender. Add the heavy cream and cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and tarragon before pureeing the creamed asparagus in a high-speed blender. Pass the contents through a fine chinois strainer. You may have to puree twice to ensure a velvety consistency. Adjust the seasoning with salt, white pepper and a bit of Pernod. Adjust the finished soup with a bit of chicken stock, if desired. If the asparagus were slightly bitter, you can address with a pinch of sugar.
White Truffle Cream
1 Cup of Noilly Prat dry white vermouth, or dry white wine
1 Cup of heavy cream
1 Tbsp white truffle oil
Pistachios, toasted lightly, chopped coarsely
Salt and white pepper
Warm up the vermouth or wine with a pinch of salt and pepper in a non-reactive sauce pan and reduce to 1/3 cup and cool. Whip the cream to soft peaks, adding truffle oil and wine, and adjust with seasonings. Serve soup in a pre-heated, shallow soup plate, with quenelles (little egg shaped scoops) of the truffle cream and top with the toasted pistachios.