Produce At Its Peak: Asparagus

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The month of March is a time where we see a juxtaposition of fresh, spring vegetables coming from California and Mexico and winter storage crops available from local farms. A perfect pairing of spring and winter crops can be enjoyed with the following recipe; Creamy Asparagus Soup. It’s vegan; the cream comes from one of my favorite potatoes, the German Butterball. We are still getting these golden spuds locally from Driftless Organics in Wisconsin, where Josh and Noah Engle are selling a large bounty of stored potatoes harvested in the fall. Organic asparagus is in season in Mexico and California and we are selling it at the lowest prices I have seen in all my years as Produce Buyer. I would definitely sauté some asparagus to have alongside the soup. In fact, I ate a pound of asparagus last night, simply sautéed in butter with salt and pepper.

Asparagus contains anti-inflammatory phytonutrients as well as anti-oxidants. It contains significant amounts of inulin, fiber and B-vitamins. Inulin is a pre-biotic which helps with digestive issues and inulin also promotes healthy blood sugar levels. Inulin can be found in other foods such as artichokes, bananas, garlic, leeks, onions and sunchokes.
Speaking of sunchokes, I hear the C-op Creamery Café will be featuring overwintered sunchokes from a local farm on their upcoming new Evening menu. Overwintered vegetables have been left in the field during the frozen months and dug in the spring when the ground thaws. Overwintered produce is another great example of the winter to spring transition. Keep an eye out for overwintered parsnips and sunchokes in our stores this spring!

Creamy Asparagus Soup

1 ½ lbs. asparagus spears, trimmed
1 ½ Tbs. olive oil
1 ½ cups finely chopped shallots (about 10)
½ lb. boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
2 vegetable bouillon cubes
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
Coarsely ground black pepper for garnish

1. Reserve 8 spears of asparagus for garnish. Cut remaining asparagus stalks into 1-inch pieces.

2. In medium saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring often, until beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add potatoes, cut-up asparagus and 4 cups water. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Add bouillon and 1 teaspoon salt. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in wide, deep pot of lightly salted boiling water, blanch reserved asparagus spears until just tender, about 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, remove spears to colander and rinse under cold running water, drain well and set aside.

4. In food processor or blender, process soup in batches until smooth and creamy. Return to pot and add freshly ground pepper to taste and lemon juice. Adjust salt to taste. Garnish with asparagus spears and ground black pepper. Serve hot.

Recipe courtesy of Vegetarian Times