Asparagus

If you’re British you look forward to the first asparagus of the season. Along with Rhubarb, it seems to symbolise the onset of Summer.
Now, I’m not going to treat you like idiots. You all know that the best way to have Asparagus is steamed and dripping with butter but what about when you get sick of having it that way (if that’s possible)? Or how about surprising those people who say that Asparagus is over-rated (my grandparents, for example)? Last night we drove to our local PYO farm shop and bought two bunches of Asparagus to cook in other ways that still highlight the delicacy of this long-limbed emerald beauty.
There is nothing like eating a stick of asparagus in the car, revelling in the slightly bitter ‘flower’ and marvelling at the sweetness of the stalk, so sweet that it almost tastes like pea pods. Later on in the season, the stalk will become woody and you will snap more and more of it off before preparation. For now though, it is another welcome treat from Spring.
Other than steaming them, and serving them swathed in melted butter and cracked black pepper, is there any better way to showcase spring vegetables (or any season for that matter?) than in a delicate soup?
There are many variations on vegetable soups. Some have diced potato for bulk and thickening, others use spices. Asparagus needs nothing other than some chopped onion, delicate chicken stock, seasoning and perhaps an indulgent swirl of cream.
When you callously blend the sauteed onion and chopped asparagus with the chicken stock, the flavour blossoms as if it were still growing in the field, reaching for the sunlight.
If you choose to omit the cream, the soup is still creamy yet almost devoid of calories (almost. Don’t forget that the onions are gently wilted in butter!) yet tastes totally decadent. I also have a hunch that it would taste wonderful chilled as well.
ASPARAGUS SOUP – serves 4
Ingredients:
1 Decent Sized Bundle of Asparagus Spears, chopped into 1cm pieces
1 Medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
500ml Chicken Stock (I used a stock cube in this instance), hot
Salt and Pepper
Cream for Swirling
A little butter or oil
METHOD:
In a deep saute pan, gently heat the butter or oil and saute the chopped onion for a few minutes, until it starts to soften but not colour.
Stir in the chopped asparagus and gently fry for 3-4 minutes more.
Pour over the hot chicken stock and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer so that it just blips on the surface and cook for another 10 minutes, until a knife point penetrates the asparagus pieces without any force.
Pour into a blender and, wearing an oven glove to hold the lid in place (I have had too many burns from trusting the locking function on the lid of my cheapo blender), puree into all the lumps are blitzed into creamy oblivion.
Strain into a saucepan through a sieve and gently bring to a simmer. Taste for seasoning. You will probably need a good pinch of salt and a good grind of pepper. Stir in the cream now if you are using but take care not to boil the soup. If you do, what happened to me will happen to you: you will get a darker green shade of algae like soup on top where the cream splits slightly. Don’t get me wrong, this would be perfect for a themed party and it doesn’t affect the flavour. It just doesn’t look too good!
You can also garnish it with a couple of steamed asparagus tips if you’re feeling particularly fancy.

The second dish was an Asparagus Tart. As with the soup, I toyed with different variations: adding some fried pancetta to the egg/cream mixture, frozen peas, herbs, spring onions. New season Asparagus needs no such fripperies yet. My one concession to any additional flavouring was a parmesan crust and some parmesan in the custard too. It just adds another layer of savoury-ness that is sublime.
The tart is almost as simple to make as the soup, particularly if you use bought pastry. Steam the asparagus until knife point tender. Leave to cool then place in the bottom of a blind baked pastry case.
Whisk up some eggs yolks, cream and milk with some parmesan and pour over the top of the asparagus. Bake for about 25-30 minutes until the tart is yellow, puffy and browned in places. The Asparagus spears will have bobbed to the top and scorched beautifully in places. Leave to cool for ten minutes then cut into soft, squidgy slices. The custard will not have set solid but instead is wobbly, creamily firm, almost like a souffle. It is wonderful warm but great cold as well. And it keeps in the fridge (I had just had a slice for lunch).
ASPARAGUS TART
Ingredients:
Decent Size Bundle Asparagus, trimmed of the woody ends (be ruthless!), steamed
8" Shortcrust Pastry Case, blind baked (if making your own pastry, add some finely grated parmesan for extra crunch and flavour)
300ml Double Cream
150ml Milk (I used skimmed but any will do)
4 Free Range, Organic Egg Yolks
2 Tablespoons Grated Parmesan
Salt and Pepper
METHOD:
Preheat oven to 200c.
Cool the steamed asparagus and lay in the bottom of your blind baked pastry case. You can be artistic if you like. I wasn't.
In a large jug, whisk together the egg yolks, milk and cream, then sprinkle in the parmesan and season well.
Pour over the asparagus in the pastry case and bake for 25-30 minutes or until puffy and golden brown.
Remove from the oven, leave to cool for 10 minutes, then serve in generous, oozingly creamy slices with a salad.
Enjoy!

For dessert, as if soup and tart wasn't enough, I made the ice cream du jour. Or, to put it another way, the ice cream that's doing the rounds, Banana Ice Cream. I see you shrug your shoulders. Eh, Banana Ice Cream. Big Deal! Well, Mr or Mrs NaySayer, here's the twist: this ice cream contains nought but banana. No cream, no eggs, no sugar, no nuffink!
Let us start from the beginning. I first read about this dream of an ice cream over at Lisa's fab blog, La Mia Cucina. If you've already read about the ice cream over there, you can stop reading now. If not, why not?
Anyway, she discovered the recipe through yet another Daring Baker, Marce at Pip in the City and shared it with all of us. This ice cream is big news. It is perfect for people who are diary or gluten intolerant. If you are concerned about your children eating too much sugar or hidden chemicals in foods, this is perfect. Let me reiterate: THE ONLY INGREDIENT IS BANANAS.
Here's the recipe:
BANANA ICE CREAM
Ingredients:
3 BANANAS (this serves maybe 4 not so hungry people, or just me and Paul)
METHOD:
Peel and slice the bananas. Lay the slices on a baking sheet (I put them on clingfilm because my sheet was grubby) and freeze for at least four hours. I left them for 24 hours with no undue side effects.
Now here's the science: place the sliced banana in a food processor and process for several minutes. At first the frozen banana slices will turn into a rubble, then a big thick lump that makes you think "wah?" and then it turns into a stunning pale cream mixture. It is the texture of softened ice cream but lighter, more mousse-like. Scrape into a freezer-proof dish and chill for at least another 15 minutes. I left it in there for 2 hours and it was OK. Not sure what would happen if you left it for many more hours. And that's it! The world's easiest and healthiest Ice Cream! And yummiest! Thanks Lis and Marce!
p.s. The picture is terrible but my flash is fading on my camera!

P.P.S. DON'T FORGET TO DIG OUT THE CHARCOAL FOR PAULS BIG BURGER BALLYHOO!

26 comments:

pom d'api said...

OOOOhhhhh!! I love your menu : asparagus Soup, Us tart and my prefere banana ice cream. It's georgious.

Ulrike said...

Great menue, I have no time for (white) asparagus, I cleaned the grill and digged out the charcoal ;-)

Deborah said...

I have never had asparagus soup before - this sounds wonderful! I am a huge asparagus fan - it also works wonderful in pasta dishes. I also saw this banana ice cream and have been wanting to try it, but I don't own a food processor (it is on my birthday wish list!!) I think I might try it in a blender, just to see if it works!

Cheryl said...

I still haven't tried the banana recipe yet, I keep forgetting about it. It looks so good.

tigerfish said...

Asparagus is in season here too! I like them steamed or lightly sauteed with pancetta.

I thought you were finishing the meal with asparagus ice-cream ? LOL!

Terry B said...

The soup sounds amazing! And I do like the idea of getting fancy and reserving some tips for placing on top of each bowl.

For me, there's no such thing as too much asparagus. And usually when we steam it, we just salt it a little and call it done. Don't even add the butter.

Another nice, simple way to prepare it is to brush it with olive oil, add some salt and pepper and roast it in the oven.

Lucy said...

Lovely post Freya. Great tart.

As we head into autumn and the nights get darker so much earlier, I miss those crisp spears, however much I love the bliss of colder weather.

And as for the banana ice cream... OHMIGOD!

Kelly-Jane said...

Asparagus is one of my favourite veggies. Your soup and tart look lovely, and I know they'd taste great!

I have never seen anything like the banana ice, but it sounds really cool and refreshing.

Meeta said...

I love asparagus and I too wait every year for it to arrive. Just enjoyed reading your recipes. Wonderful!

valentina said...

Freya, I love the banana ice cream.What a lovely way to prepare it. I can see it becoming a feature of the seasons to come. As for the asparagus, after all these years in this country I also love the first sign of spring..and it is definitely a sign that we are in for a feast.

Joyce said...

Great minds think alike! I, too, went out in search of young,slim, sweet asparagus stalks yesterday. I love your treatments. Clever!
I explored another rice bowl! But with newly dug organic Vidalia onions, the sautéed young asparagus were heavenly. More to eat tonight!

Sara said...

Oh wow, that tart is gorgeous! Great uses of asparagus, I look forward to trying them out.

Julia said...

Mmm...I've had my first taste of asparagus this season too, fabulous.

And bananna ice cream!! I bet that's gorgous.

gilly said...

I love, love, LOVE asparagus, and I'm starting to see posts about it everywhere - yum! Fantastic recipes!

Callipygia said...

This tart is positively gorgeous-

Vicki said...

I can't wait to try that tart! My standard way of doing asparagus is to roast with olive oil, s&p, then add equal parts balsamic vinegar and soy sauce, and a little butter. Yum!

Chris said...

Yum! It must be asparagus week! I also made a tart...great minds!These recipes look great.

Helene said...

I love your asparagus recipe. Never made into soup but I'll try now. My family enjoys asparagus, steamed and chilled and served with a vinaigrette...never get tired of it!
I was going to do that banana ice cream too, but then ended up making a much more fattening roasted banana ie cream with crushed up caramalized hazelnuts left from crappy crepe cake. Not as virtuous as yours...!
Love that last shot!

eliza said...

i'm partial to asparagus soup but love it in stir-fry or baked dish. your post is definitely very refreshing!

Melting Wok said...

oh no, I love asparagus too, we have abundance of them here, grill in the summer time, and stir-frys with stinky shrimp paste with fish (malaysian style)in the winter time hehe :) Gotta try your soup version, sounds perfect, oh..love that banana ice cream idea, simple and delicious :) Been drinking smoothies lately, and dear lordy, I've gotta get the juice, the yogurt, and the frozen fruits, so much stuffs :P

valentinA said...

I so wish they sold fresh asparagus here:( I love it to bits & the last time I had asparagus was when my colleague made asparagus mousse. Quite tasty!
But I'm simply droooooling over your asparagus recipes Freya. I'm jealous.

Gemma said...

I had an asparagusathon last night as well but just lightly boiled and dripping in butter. Your tart looks delicious, may have to give that a try and the banana ice-cream is a revelation and is on my must try this summer list!

Gemma x

Anonymous said...

When Paul, your Paul, lived in Oregon, U.S. as a very young child, we had asparagus as an appetizer that was made by UO faculty wives who taught Chinese cooking. I remember soy sauce, sesame seeds, light oil and the other ingredients I wish I knew. It was and still is my favorite taste of Asparagus. If anyone reading this comments, has a recipe for an asparagus appetizer that relates to some of the ingredients I have mentioned, I would well seeing in a comment to Freya.

Little Foodie said...

Do you take houseguests? Family size houseguests?
Amanda

sarah said...

Wow, Freya, everything looks so wonderful. The crepe cake looked oh-so-delicious, as well as the asparagus soup and asparagus tart. Keep up the good work!

Lis said...

I'm all about the asparagus! I was getting a lil obsessive about it not too long ago.. I roast it with nothing but a drizzle of olive oil and a good pinch of sea salt, roasted until it gets crispy.. God.

And now I have a soup I can make with them - hooray!! It looks simply divine.

So glad you tried the ice-cream! And your picture is not terrible.. it's farkin fantastic :D

xoxo