I have this friend called Malene. She’s a real, little sweetie and all, but she yells at me! Granted, sometimes I deserve it, like if I’m being a total idiot or doing extraordinarily stupid things but other times, I get a feeling she does it f0r kicks. Like this one time, a year or so ago, where I’d cooked her dinner which consisted amongst other things of a cabbage-based side dish. After we were done eating, I went to throw out some left-over cabbage and all hell broke loose.
“Oi!” she yelled, and shot me a gaze that fried the very depths of my soul right then and there. “You are NOT throwing that away, if you won’t eat it, the chickens will! What is wrong with you!?” – “But…,” I ventured before realizing where this was going, then quickly wrapped up my sentence with a “yes, ma’am!” and started wrapping up the leftovers for Malene’s mom’s chickens… Trust me, guys, all of my best friends are women, I know which battles are worth fighting and which are better left alone.
At the time, I didn’t fully realize what was so wrong about throwing away a single leaf of cabbage or two. Malene, of course, claims it was more like five pounds of cabbage. The reality is probably somewhere in-between, but I digress. The point is, I didn’t really get it at the time, but we have since come to an agreement (and this isn’t entirely one of those choosing your battles wisely kind of things) that she probably was right in yelling at me. I mean, we live in a world of plenty, it’s so easy to just throw something away and get something new the next day. While I’ve previously actually taken pride in not doing this to a great extend, Malene’s heartfelt scolding showed me I was actually doing it on a much larger scale than I thought: Some lettuce here, a hunk of something there, a splash of cream.. Little things that could, and should, be used more wisely.
So, I hate to admit it, mainly because we’ve got a very serious case of playful teasing and one-upmanship going, but she probably was right in scolding me on that fateful day. I could do better, I should do better and now, I try to do better:
I now chop up leftover bits and pieces of vegetables for salads, stir fries or stews, I use scraps and cut-offs of meat to add extra flavor during cooking or I freeze them for stock. Stale bread turns to croutons or is used to stretch meatballs, meatloaf or similar. Basically, I try my best not to waste anything. It’s better for the environment, my bank account and my ears.
And I’ve been doing pretty well with my new not getting yelled at life-style, thank you very much. I live better, cheaper and more peacefully. But still, one thing has been bugging me. And it’s got a little something to do with a favorite obsession of mine. I *love* asparagus, and I probably have consumed about a metric ton of them this spring and summer alone (give or take a largely exaggerated amount). But with asparagus come problems as far as eating up goes. Parts of the asparagus spears – the bottoms to be exact – are, per definition, inedible: tough, woody, fibrous… Not at all good eats! As a matter of fact, they’re usually cut away discarded by any sane asparagus lover who sees no crime in doing so.
I’m not a particularly sane individual, though, and the last time I tried throwing something away, I was hissed at and barely ever forgiven for my deeds. Something, I figured, something would have to be done with those disposable asparagus ends. Something that would earn me smiles, pads on the shoulder, recognition. Not hissing and clawing at! But what? I didn’t know… As much as I thought about it, for weeks, as I continued to eat asparagus, dutifully saving all the cut off ends, nothing good came to me. I eventually even started freezing the ends, thinking I’d come up with something, at some point. No, ma’am, there’d be no yelling at Johan this time, not in Johan’s house!
Then eventually, late one night while I pondered weak and weary, it struck me! Soup! But not just any kind of soup, no. I’d be making cream of asparagus soup, or should I say cream of left-over asparagus soup! If I could not make the ends edible, at least I could probably extract their flavor and use it for something edible. And with that, my experiments began!
Making cream of left-over asparagus soup
I started out by gathering up all my left-over odds and ends (pun intended!). I then grabbed a reasonably large pot, a threw in a bit of oil and put some heat to it. I added my asparagus and roasted them for a while to release more flavors, then threw in a clove of garlic and a shallot then covered the whole thing with water. I brought it to a boil, backed the heat down and walked away for three-quarters of an hour or so, letting things bubble away happily on their own.
I returned after 45 minutes or so to some, on the surface, less than encouraging results. My asparagus ends and boiling water had turned into somewhat of a brown-mess that looked less than appetizing. This wasn’t too surprising, though. What was surprising was the smell. Sweet, slightly herbal and decidedly asparagus like. I grabbed a spoon and gave the boiling water a taste. The flavor was good, clean, very asparagus-like but rather subdued and not exactly overpowering.
“I’m on to something,” I thought, and bravely gave one of the ends a bite. The flavor here was better, more asparagus-like, but it was still tough, chewy, fibrous and damn near impossible to eat. It needs time, I assured myself and walked away for another half hour or so.
When I returned, the liquid had reduced a little, the flavor intensified and the ends, I deducted, had become as tender as they were ever going to be. Sadly, they were still not edible in any sense of the word, but I still wanted to extract as much flavor from them as I could possibly produce.
“Power!” I deducted, then grabbed my immersion blender, turned it on to 12 (it actually goes to 11 and beyond! How awesome is that, Spinal Tap fans?), plunged it into the now gray-brown-ish mess and put the spurs to it. Trying not to laugh too much like a maniac, I blended the hell out of everything for a few minutes and was left with a bunch of stringy, fibrous parts floating in a flavorful stock.
“Sieve!” I thought , then grabbed one and passed the liquid through it, straining out the tough, incredibly bits and leaving only the good stuff. After some straining and squeezing, I was left with a very fragrant, very flavorful and not very attractive asparagus stock to build on. – “No matter,” I thought, “we’ll fix that… err.. somehow, ” and soldiered on.
Essentially, at this point I had a very nice, very flavorful and very one-sided asparagus stock. This wasn’t a bad thing, not at all, but I wanted a little more depth and character. So, to my stock, I added a bit of high quality, organic, ready-made vegetable stock to compliment the wonderful asparagus flavor. Yeah, it’s kinda cheating, I know, but so sue me, we all run out of time every now and then and if you do a little searching, there are some pretty good ready-made stocks out there.
Ahem, anyways, a splash of stock was added which made the whole thing take on a completely different taste and feel, and a much more intense asparagus flavor overall. See, the beauty of stocks when used properly and in moderation is that they do not only add flavor, they also help boost flavors already present.
With this new depth and flavor profile, I was pretty well satisfied with the result. It now needed just – as the late, great Steve Jobs would have said – one more thing!
Heavy cream: inviting an old favorite to the party!
Now, they don’t call it cream of asparagus soup for nothing, and of course my cream of left-over asparagus soup needed a healthy shot of cream before I could call it quits. And with good reason: cream adds substance, viscosity, depth and a wonderful richness to soups, especially vegetable-based soups. And calories, of course, but hey, we’re talking vegetable water here, even a healthy splash of cream won’t hurt!
When adding the cream, any good quality,reasonably fresh heavy cream will do, but if you want to elevate things just a little bit further you can do what I do which was to use an infused cream. In my case, I used a splash of cream that had been simmered with trimmings and odd bits and ends from some white asparagus I had used in another project (recipe and instructions are available here!) which added an even more amazing depth and a more intense asparagus flavor. Infused cream is an optional step, though, and pretty much requires you to have a bunch of asparagus on hand for another use. If you don’t simply skip this step, but don’t skip the cream. You’ll be sorry that you did.
With the addition of the asparagus infused cream, my soup had all the taste and feel of a cream of asparagus soup, but none of the color or sexiness. Owing to the vigorous boiling of the less than appetizing parts of the asparagus, the color was a sad, pale, pseudo-brown greenish-grey mess with very little visual appeal. I thought long and hard about what to do, and eventually decided that I would have to add some green color. Food coloring popped to mind, but that would be cheating and sort of evading the purpose of my dish – purchasing a new ingredient (food coloring) to make the most out of leftovers? For shame! After some more thinking, it finally struck me! I wanted green! Peas are green! I had peas in the freezer from another experiment! I’m a genius!
Err, I’m also full of myself. but, ahem, anyways. A handful or so of thawed green peas blended into the soup immediately before serving, I figured, would give it a beautiful green shine that would not only make my soup look more appetizing, but also would make the appearance match the deep spring-like flavors of the soup. That was the plan, anyway, and with great anticipation and a pounding heart, I added and quickly blended a large handful of peas into my soup. As my immersion blender whirred, I watched in satisfied amazement as my soup, right in front of my eyes, turned from an unappetizing mess to a vibrant and appetizing green.
I quickly transferred the dish from a pot to a serving dish and the result became even more stunning. By the time it had been properly garnished and made it to the table, it was downright beautiful. In fact, by the time this hit the table, I had a bit of a hard time getting people to believe that they were eating discarded bit of leftovers. But they were, and here’s the recipe to prove it:
Cream of left-over asparagus soup
- Cut off ends from 3-4 large bunches of asparagus about one pound total
- enough water to cover
- one clove of garlic whole
- one large shallot cut into chunks
- one cup of green peas thawed if frozen
- 100 milliliters of heavy cream try my asparagus-infused cream
- 1-2 tablespoons of good quality concentrated vegetable stock
- a splash of vegetable oil
- salt to taste
- Grab a pot large enough to hold the asparagus, add a splash of oil and put it over medium heat.
- When oil is shimmering, add asparagus ends, garlic and onion and a generous pinch of salt. Fry for a couple of minutes, tossing every now and then.
- Add enough water to cover asparagus, turn heat up and bring to a boil.
- Back heat down and gently boil asparagus ends for about 60-75 minutes until liquid is slightly reduced and flavorful, and asparagus ends are tender but still fibrous. Note: Liquid will not be overly flavorful by now but should have an unmistakable asparagus taste and aroma.
- Kill the heat, grab an immersion blender and blend contents of pot well and thoroughly for a few minutes, breaking up the asparagus ends best as you can.
- Grab a finely meshed strainer and pass asparagus mixture through it. Squeeze as much liquid as you can from the fibrous ends, then discard whatever remains in the strainer.
- Pour the newly made asparagus stock back into the pot and put over low heat. Add about half the vegetable stock. Taste and if you feel it needs it, add the rest.
- Stir in cream, heat through and taste for seasoning.
- When everything is to your liking, dump in the peas and quickly give the soup another attack with the immersion blender. This will make your otherwise dull soup bright green and shiny.
- Serve immediately, do not let boil or color will fade again.
This soup is equally delicious hot or cold on a warm spring or summer day. Serve with garnishings of your choice. For ideas, check out the rest of the blog post below.
Jazzing it up a bit
This soup is pretty surprisingly delicious as it it, but if you’re serving it up for guests as I cockily did, you may want to add a bit of garnishes for taste and/or contrast. And that’s exactly what I did during the inaugural presentation of this dish as a part of a spring-themed dinner for friends. There are many ways you can go in terms of garnishes: fried bacon bits or ham are traditional, as is a swirl of cream or sour cream, maybe a touch of herbs… Or you can do something altogether weird and new as I did.
For my asparagus leftover project, I had created something pretty bright green and creamy… And on the subject of bright green and creamy, I got to thinking about a wonderfully creamy side salad that Tina sometimes makes using hot edamame beans, feta cheese, lemon zest and fresh mint. It’s wonderfully fresh, creamy, vibrant and tangy and I somehow wanted to copy some of those properties in my dish. One does, however, not simply mix soup and salad so what I ended up doing was deconstructing the elements of the salad and using them for garnishes for my soup dish.
I briefly heated some edamame beans in a pan and added a bit of salt, I then put some quality feta cheese in a bowl and stirred in some grated lemon zest as well as some heavy cream until the consistency was nicely runny. Lastly, I grabbed a bunch of fresh mint as well as some fresh purple basil and cut it chiffonade style to make attractive little ribbons to go on top of everything.
I served up my soup with a light sprinkling of roasted edamame beans, a swirl of feta/lemon cream and a generous sprinkling of fresh herbs. I did so, to Tina and Malene amongst others, as a tribute to spring, culinary inspiration and abusive friendships along with a story of how the dish came to be through a mix of abuse and inspiration.
Cream of left-over asparagus soup: the verdict
For a dish that literally cost next to nothing to prepare and was basically made from a combination of inedible leftovers and a few spare scraps from here and there, it was not only surprisingly gorgeous to look at and surprisingly tasty, it was also very well received.
Despite less than optimum ingredients, some bumps and gambles along the way and a less than attractive or desirable near-end result, the finished soup turned out more than attractive and vibrant in appearance. As well as fresh, spring-like, deep and satisfying in terms of taste. It was a bit of work, granted, and maybe a dogmatic one at that, but it was well worth it for the experience and the taste.
The only problem with this dish, really, is that I never succeeded in convincing anyone that Malene had been wrong in yelling at me about wasting food. If anything, I pretty much only managed to convince people that, if these were the results, she was totally right in yelling at me and should quite possibly do so more often in the future… Bummer!
Asparagus madness: Looking for more weird asparagus experiments? Why no check out my white asparagus with Pata Negra ham and Champagne Mousseline? It’s delightfully weird and complicated!