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It’s gorgeous outside. And though summer’s true vegetable rock stars (sweet corn on the cob, lipstick red tomatoes, and bundles of fresh basil) aren’t yet packin’ ‘em in at Union Square, the farmer’s market is beginning to take shape and get busy. Really busy. Ramps are wild (literally) but you have to get there early, before the chefs buy them out, in order to score yourself a bunch. Salads made from a variety of spring lettuces are bursting with color now that beets, peas, beans, and little, “infant” artichokes have sprung from the ground. Free of the prickliness in the middle, for which their larger counterparts are infamous, infant artichokes are favorites of mine. I’m ecstatic that spring berries are right around the corner, but what’s perhaps most exciting at the market this month is asparagus.
These crisp green stalks, which look like edible paintbrushes, show a beautiful purple hue in the spring sunlight. Whether you choose the skinny or chubby variety, asparagus is so fresh right now it doesn’t even need to be cooked. Using a vegetable peeler, just peel the green outer skin from the stalks, making sure you get all the bumpy bits off, but leave the tops intact. You can continue shaving if you’d like to eat them shredded, but I prefer them whole. Then, toss the cleaned stalks with some fresh arugula (you won’t believe how peppery this lettuce is when fresh and in season), dress with a citrus vinaigrette (3 parts citrus juice to 1 part oil), and season with salt and pepper. You can transform this heap of veg into a breakfast salad—perfect any time of day—by poaching a few eggs and throwing them on top; once cut open, the yolks will help to dress your greens with a rich, yellow (or, if they’re farmer’s market fresh—orange) cream. That’s right folks, the brighter the yolk, the fresher the egg, the tastier the salad!
Since I’m afraid we New Yorkers are not completely out of risk for cold fronts or rainy afternoons just yet, might I also suggest asparagus soup. I especially love this recipe since it can be transformed according to whatever weather pattern arises during unpredictable spring. Some like it hot (I do!), but in muggy July there’s nothing more inviting than a cool asparagus soup served chilled with slices of cucumber and radish garnish. At its core, the soup’s just pureed vegetables and water…a trick I picked up from my new ifoodtv buddy, Gordon Ramsey.
Asparagus Soup with Mimolette Crisps (serves 4)
·3 ½ cups Water
·1 cup Mimolette Cheese (shredded)
·Salt and Pepper
This recipe couldn’t be easier and leaves lots of room for improvisation.I make it differently depending on the season, who I’m feeding, and what I’ve got in my fridge. This week, I kept it simple and added only half a chopped onion, two celery stalks, and a clove of garlic to the basic broth of veg and water. In winter, I substitute the asparagus for broccoli (and sometimes cauliflower), and when in season, I often use sunchokes or celeric root as well.
It’s a cinch. First, pour a couple tablespoons of olive oil into the bottom of a large saucepan over moderately low heat and add whatever flavor combo you choose; again, I added onion, celery, and garlic. Sauté these elements until softened (about 5 minutes) and then add the asparagus and water. Bring the pot to a boil and then simmer until the veg is tender (in the case of asparagus, that’s about 7 minutes more; for broccoli, it’s a little longer, closer to 10 minutes, etc.). When finished simmering, transfer the soup to a blender and puree. Season the soup with salt and pepper and serve piping hot or with mimolette crisps (recipe below) or chill for a few hours and serve cold. If you really wanna indulge, you can blend in a touch of sour cream, crème fraiche, or heavy cream when you puree, or even dollop a cloud of cream atop a bowl of the finished soup. I went the crème fraiche route—even though the flavor of the asparagus is fantastic on its own, I couldn’t resist the draw of dairy…I never can! I also floated just a wee sprinkle of both sweet and then spicy paprika to my bowl for an added kick.
For the crisps, just preheat your oven to 350 degrees and, on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or a silpat, simply sprinkle the cheese loosely; season with sea salt. If you don’t want to get all fancy and French with your cheese selection, you can use cheddar. Or go Italian. Parmesan is the classic crisping cheese. Bake for 15 minutes or until darkened…you’ll be able to smell the goodness coming from your oven. Allow to cool. Once cool, break into jagged forms and place delicately into soup bowls. The crisps will keep for weeks inside a refrigerator, in an airtight container.