Ever notice how foods in season taste well together? In summer, think of zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, and basil; in fall, sweet slices of fuyu persimmon, apple, or dried quince paste with salty, aged cheese, or roasted squash or pumpkin, garnished with toasted seeds; winter brings root vegetables, and dark greens like kale and collards, perhaps cooked with beans or some hearty roast meat, such as wild boar. Spring offers so many delights: fresh strawberries with new cream, a side dish of lightly cooked romaine hearts with sweet peas and chanterelles, and one of my favorites: Cream of Asparagus and Leek Soup.
Actually, there is no cream in the soup, but there is a little butter. What makes the soup creamy is the way the leeks, and especially the asparagus, react to the blender after they’re cooked. The vegetables become smooth and almost fluffy, those asparagus fibers breaking down into something sublime when blended.
With almost everything available at supermarkets and groceries these days, it’s easy to forget that food is seasonal. Just because you can buy strawberries and tomatoes in December doesn’t mean you should buy them, or that they’ll taste good. They’ll maybe taste okay. But nothing like the strawberries of April and May (in California that is — later in colder climates), so sweet they’re like candy. And tomatoes in August and September have a sugar and flavor content unsurpassed the rest of the year. Even eggs and milk and salmon used to be seasonal items: eggs in spring and summer, milk also in spring and summer when the cow had extra after calving, and salmon was caught May-September. Farming practices make these things available to us year round now.
That’s why I love to shop at farmer’s markets. They always seem to have the best quality produce, and when produce is in season, there’s usually a plentiful supply of it, so prices are more competitive then, too.
It’s almost April in Santa Barbara. Sugar snap and snow peas are here, strawberries are beginning, lettuce is beautiful, kiwis are available, as are leeks, fresh garlic, artichokes and asparagus. Fava beans coming soon!
4 Tbs. unsalted butter
2 large leeks, cleaned and sliced
2 bunches fresh asparagus
16 oz. chicken or vegetable stock
1 -2 c. water
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of nutmeg
Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add sliced leeks and sauté, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until leeks are just tender and fragrant.
Snap off tough ends of the asparagus. Cut off asparagus tips in 1 1/2” pieces, steam them for 1 or 2 minutes, until barely tender and bright green, and reserve. Cut remaining asparagus stalks into 2” pieces and add to leeks, continuing to sauté for about 5 minutes.
Add chicken or vegetable stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and continue cooking just until asparagus is tender, about 5-7 minutes. Add 1c. water. Remove from heat, and blend mixture with a hand-held soup blender, or in a regular blender or food processor, until smooth. Return to saucepan and season with salt, cayenne, and nutmeg, to taste. Add more water if a thinner soup is desired. Serve, garnished with the steamed asparagus tips. This soup is also quite good served cold.