For me, some of the best recipes are those that teach a new technique. Whether it’s a small tweak on a standard practice or a completely new approach that turns everything we know on it's head, new techniques improve your cooking and keep you engaged. And that’s exactly what this asparagus velouté will do for you.
This puréed soup recipe taught me one of the coolest cooking tricks I’ve learned in a while, and I knew that I had to share it. The technique addresses the sickly, unappealing yellow- green color of asparagus when cooked for a long period of time. And unfortunately for the aesthetics, long cooking is how you make soup. This recipe takes advantage of the depth of flavor that comes from simmering everything for 30 minutes, but here’s the genius: it uses a spinach “dye” technique to amp up the green color. And I like to think it amps the nutrition level too (remind yourself of this when you’re pouring in the heavy cream).
Basically, the spinach is blanched in boiling water, shocked in ice water to lock in the color and puréed to create the dye. Once the soup is fully cooked and puréed, the spinach dye is stirred in to add a vibrant, beautifully fresh green color. And no, this isn’t petty and don’t skip it because as we all know, we eat with our eyes. Don’t skip the walnut parsley pistou either! It's simply a French version of pesto, and it adds freshness and a crunch that is even better than homemade croutons. If you want to take this soup to the next level, cover it with puff pastry and bake it for a crispy, buttery, dunkable top. And enjoy it with a glass (or two) of herbaceous, grassy and tropical New Zealand Sauvignon blanc.
asparagus velouté with walnut parsley pistou
- 1 bunch spinach (I used an 8-oz bag)
- 1 lb asparagus, ends snapped off at natural breaking point, tips of 4 to 6 spears reserved and remaining stalks cut into 1/4" thick slices
- 4 tbsp butter
- 3 cups finely diced yellow onion
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 cups whole milk, plus up to 1 cup more if needed to thin
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 4- 12 tbsp walnut parsley pistou (see below), for garnish
- fruity, flavorful extra virgin olive oil, for garnish (optional)
- 1/2 cup walnut halves
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
- 1/4 cup Parmigiano- Reggiano, finely grated
- 1 garlic clove
- salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Bring salted water to a rolling boil in a large (4 qt) pot. Fill a mixing bowl with ice water and set aside for shocking. Wash the spinach well, then dunk into boiling water. Remove once wilted, about 10-15 seconds, and transfer immediately to ice water to stop the cooking. Repeat the blanching and shocking with the asparagus tips. Set asparagus tips to the side for garnishes.
- Transfer spinach and 1/2- 3/4 cup of the shocking water to a blender and blend on high until the mixture is very smooth and uniform, about 1 minute. Stop and scrape down the sides of the blender with a rubber spatula as needed. This purée will be used as a natural dye to restore the green color lost by cooking the asparagus. Measure out 1/4 cup dye and set aside to use for the soup (though I wound up using the entire batch with no unwanted flavors). Freeze any remainder in an ice- cube tray for future use.
- In a 4-qt saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and sweat for 6-7 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic and sweat for an additional 2 minutes. Add the asparagus, salt, and pepper and cook until the asparagus is bright green, about 5 minutes.
- Add the milk and cream and turn down the heat to medium-low. Allow the mixture to come to a simmer, about 5 minutes. Keep the liquid at a very gentle bubble and cook the asparagus, stirring occasionally, until it is completely soft and can be easily squished between two fingers, about 25 minutes. Cooking the asparagus to complete tenderness is very important for a perfectly smooth purée. Remove the pan from the heat.
- Carefully add half of the hot soup to the blender. Remove the plastic insert from the lid of the blender and replace it with a kitchen towel to allow some steam to escape. Purée the soup, starting on low speed until just blended, about 30 seconds, and then turning to high speed and continuing until completely smooth, about 1 minute. Note: if you don't have a high powered blender, strain the soup through a chinois to remove any fibers. Pour the soup into a clean saucepan. Repeat with the remaining half of the soup.
- Warm the soup bowls. Set the saucepan of soup over medium heat and stir constantly to avoid scorching the bottom. As soon as the soup is hot, and just before serving, add the 1/4 cup spinach dye (or all of it, like I did) and stir to mix. Add the spinach dye as close to serving as possible, the color will fade as it heats up. To test the consistency of the soup, pour some soup from a spoon; it should pour easily in a steady stream. If it doesn't, thin it slightly with the additional 1 cup milk. Be careful not to over thin the soup or the garnishes will sink to the bottom of the bowl. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
- To serve, divide the soup evenly among the warmed bowls. If necessary, stir 1 to 2 tbsp olive oil into the pistou (recipe below) to loosen it to a spoonable consistency, and then spoon 1 to 2 tbsp pistou on top of each bowl. Place 2 of the sliced asparagus tips, cut side up, on top of the pistou. Drizzle the olive oil on top and serve immediately.
makes about 1 cup
- Preheat oven to 325 F. Spread the walnuts on a small baking sheet and toast for 3 to 5 minutes, until lightly fragrant but not overly toasted. Set aside until cool to the touch, about 10 minutes.
- Place the oil in a small bowl about 4 inches in diameter and add the parsley immediately upon chopping to prevent browning. Fresh herbs start to discolor as soon as they're chopped; submerging them in oil helps keep their color and protects their flavor. Splash in more oil if needed to keep the parsley covered.
- On a cutting board, crush the garlic clove, roughly chop it and sprinkle 1/4 tsp of kosher salt on top. Run the flat side of the knife back and forth over the garlic, applying pressure with your hand to massage the salt into the garlic and make a fine paste. (This will add an even, more mellow garlic flavor that isn't too hot)
- In a food processor, pulse the walnuts 3 to 4 times to break them into small pieces. Add the cheese and garlic paste and pulse another 5 to 10 times to incorporate and evenly disperse the garlic.
- Combine the nut mixture and the parsley with its oil in a bowl and stir to mix (or if you want a finer texture, simply add the parsley and oil to the food processor and pulse a few more times). Adjust the consistency with more oil if necessary and then taste and adjust the seasoning.
- Any leftover pistou is wonderful on top of grilled meats (chicken and fish for example) or tossed with pasta, farro, roasted vegetables, or even as a dip for crusty bread.