Asparagus Soup With Lemon and Dill (Asparagolemono)

Spring has very much sprung here in the South — beautiful weather with just enough warmth, no humidity, and some great winds!  That means two things: get the diver out to scrub our bottom (go ahead…indulge your inner 12-year-old boy and giggle…), and asparagus season.  This soup is from the Old Farmer’s Almanac and is an asparagus-heavy take on the Greek chicken, lemon and egg soup called avgolemono, which in addition to being one of my favorite soups, is now the source of one of my favorite naming triumphs of Pirate Caroline’s career thus far: aspara-golemono.

Our diver, Chris and his partner/wife Kara were scheduled for our spring scrub today, so we moved the boat down the bayou to the bulkhead; better visibility and fewer gators.  While he scrubbed, I cooked.  Before we both  “went below” we discussed that he wasn’t much of a vegetable fan, preferring his plant-food intake to have been “processed” into cow.  I served his wife a bowl, though, and she liked it so much she had him taste it…while he’s not a TOTAL asparagus convert, he actually seemed to like it!  So there’s your Carnivorous Diver Seal of Approval for this week’s recipe.

Asparagus Soup with Lemon and Dill (Asparagolemono)

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3 pounds fresh asparagus
4 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons butter
1-1/2 cups chopped celery
1-1/2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped leeks (white part only)
3 eggs
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup snipped fresh dill

If you’re longing after the beautiful spring asparagus at your farmer’s market, this is your recipe: 3 pounds

To prep, cut the very tips/flowers off and reserve; then, cut the woody ends off.  This is a matter of feel in terms of where to cut — where the color fades is one test; trying to gently snap the end off by hand is another.  If you’re not sure about the woody end thing, you can also cut off  less — just the dry bit at the end where the spear has been cut — and then use a vegetable peeler to peel a couple of inches up from the base until you see fresher green centers vs. stringy, tougher stalk.  All the ends and peels get used, so don’t worry about this too much…cut, peel and reserve.  Cut remaining middle spears into 1-inch lengths.The flowers are the most tender and delicious, so keeping them whole is the plan.  If you are being chic, as I am today (a clean bottom deserves upscale garnish), blanche them in lightly-salted boiling water for about 2 minutes until they turn bright green and are tender.  If you’re not in a mood to bother with garnish, keep the tips and we will add them, whole, later.I needed to make four cups of chicken broth from my go-to Better-Than-Bouillon; luckily I had blanched the asparagus tips in four cups of water, which were now handily almost at a boil!  I used a slotted spoon to remove the asparagus tips to a paper towel and made the broth in the same water, which gave even more asparagus flavor to the soup.  Regardless, put the woody ends and any peels from trimming the asparagus into the four cups of broth; cover, bring to a boil and immediately remove from the heat, leaving covered for about 15 minutes to steep.In the meantime, chop your leeks, onions and celery.  Be sure to wash your leeks well!Melt the butter and sautee the leek, onion and celery for 5 or so minutes until they begin to soften.  I like to add a shake of salt at this point, which causes the vegetables to sweat and cook better.Add the 1-inch segments of asparagus and stir.Strain the infused chicken broth into the pan and throw away the ends/peels.  Add two cups water and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium low and simmer, covered, about  5 minutes, until the asparagus is tender.While the soup is simmering, juice your lemons.  Two particularly juicy ones gave me my 1/3 cup juice.  Don’t skimp or use anything other than fresh — this is so key to the soup’s ultimate flavor.When the soup is done simmering, puree it.  You can do this in batches in a blender or food processor (including my beloved hand-cranked one), but that is messy and cumbersome.  If you have a hand-held immersion blender, it makes things so much easier.  Confession: I only had an electric one and brought it from home; since we were on the bulkhead, I had Captain Peter run an extension cord down to a neighboring power boat!  It is THAT much of a timesaver.  I’m going to shop for a decent battery-powered one soon just for making blended soups.  Let the soup cool for 5-10 minutes until lukewarm.  If you aren’t blanching the asparagus tips for garnish, add them just after pureeing and the residual heat will cook them just enough, but leave them intact.Whisk the three eggs well in a small, heat-tolerant bowl, then vigorously whisk in all but a couple tablespoons of the lemon juice until the mixture is creamy and frothy.  Slowly add a cup of the lukewarm soup, whisking constantly.  Your goal is to NOT cook or curdle the eggs, so you want to stream the soup in while whisking.  Guess what you can’t do; stream something into a bowl while whisking and take a picture all at the same time…I made the Captain shoot this one down through the companionway from the bridge deck where he was making some line repairs!Whisk the egg-soup mixture back into the soup and cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until slightly thickened.  Don’t let it boil!  If you’re sensitive to uncooked eggs, you want to get the soup to about 160 degrees.  When cooked through, remove from heat and add the last two tablespoons of lemon juice.Stir in the snipped dill, reserving a few sprigs for garnish.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

This soup is great hot, room-temperature, or cold.  As I finished it, the diver had finished, the winds were up, and it was time to head out of the harbor for what promised to be a sporty beat to wind!  So I funneled the soup into a pitcher that I could prop in the galley sink for the afternoon, and we finished the day with a gentle reach back and a delicious spring soup.


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