By Alan Roettinger
Earth has been called “the blue planet,” owing to the vast area covered by oceans, but in truth it is the green planet, the only one known to support life. The season that most represents this miraculous fact is spring, a time when brown and gray transform before our eyes into lush greens and the potential locked in every seed explodes with near-infinite variety.
When I lived in Mexico, I paid little attention to the seasons — we only had two, the dry and the wet, and it was never very cold. But where seasons are distinct, spring is a most magical event. Budding life is everywhere, and creatures who had run for cover in late autumn are all returning. My house is visited by foxes, rabbits, deer, all manner of birds, and even the occasional bear. All of this is wonderful, but as a cook, what I look forward to most is the fresh produce of spring: fava beans, peas, artichokes, chives (with edible blossoms!), strawberries and tender asparagus.
One appropriate way to celebrate spring is with a green soup, and there is none greener than one made with tender young asparagus, blended with parsley. When I was just starting out as a chef, I followed the French tradition, adding butter and cream to everything. Now, thirty-some years later, I’ve found that the best thing you can do to food is “as little as possible.” This soup is about as simple as it gets. On that note, be sure to use a fresh olive oil that tastes delicious all by itself. I recommend Spanish “Hojiblanca” for its robust flavor and high polyphenol content.
Asparagus and Parsley Soup
Makes 4 servings
2 ¼ pounds young asparagus
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups finely diced shallots
4 cups vegetable broth, or water
¼ teaspoon unrefined sea salt
1/2 cup packed Italian parsley leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
Wash the asparagus and pat dry. Snap off the tough bottom portion of each spear and discard. Cut off the tips uniformly, 1½ inches long, and set aside. Slice the stalks into ¼-inch pieces.
Put ¼ cup of the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Tilt the pot back and forth to coat the bottom evenly, and add the shallots. Cook, stirring constantly, until the shallots begin to sizzle, about 1 minute. Decrease the heat to low and spread the shallots out in an even layer. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, checking from time to time and adding 1 tablespoon water, if needed to prevent sticking.
Uncover the pot, add the broth and salt, and increase the heat to high. Bring to a boil and add the sliced asparagus stems. Adjust the heat to maintain a simmer and cook until the asparagus is tender, about 15 minutes.
Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the asparagus tips and stir. Cook until the tips are just tender but still firm, about 2 minutes. Drain, refresh in cold water, and drain thoroughly. Reserve 8 of the best looking tips, and put the rest in a blender. When the broth mixture is done, add it to the blender along with the parsley leaves, and process until smooth and bright green.
Divide the soup among 4 low soup plates. Drizzle a flourish of olive oil in a circular pattern over the surface of each serving. Set two of the reserved asparagus tips in the middle, forming an “X,” and garnish with a sprinkling of the chopped parsley. Serve at once.
Editor’s Note: I had so much fun interviewing Chef Alan on Gen R Wholistic Radio. Check out the podcast from 3/22/16 at VoiceAmerica.com.