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Published March 19, 2013, 11:35 PM

Home with the Lost Italian: Asparagus Bleu Cheese Soup ripe for any occasion

All evidence to the contrary, today is the official first day of spring. In terms of the weather, this means absolutely nothing; however, in terms of food, it means we are entering the season of asparagus, one of our favorite vegetables.

By: Tony and Sarah Nasello, INFORUM

All evidence to the contrary, today is the official first day of spring.

In terms of the weather, this means absolutely nothing; however, in terms of food, it means we are entering the season of asparagus, one of our favorite vegetables.

Tony and I love this symbol of spring for its lush greenery, high nutritional value and versatility. An easy way to prepare asparagus is to toss it in olive oil, salt and pepper, place it on a baking sheet and roast it in the oven at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. So simple, yet roasting intensifies its unique and pleasing flavor and lessens its slightly bitter tone. But this is just one of many ways to approach this marvelous vegetable.

Last month I was lucky enough to spend about 10 days with my sister Paula and her adorable family of four at their home in Apple Valley, Minn., as they welcomed the arrival of baby Zoe Clementine.

A few weeks before her due date, Paula mentioned that she was craving Sarello’s Asparagus Bleu Cheese Soup and asked if I could bring some with me when I came to visit. I assured her this was no problem, fully intending to ask Tony to put this soup on the schedule for that week so that I would arrive in good standing. Of course, after hanging up the phone, I promptly forgot all about Paula’s special request.

By the time I remembered, it was the night before my mother and I were to leave for our visit. Too late for Tony to come to my rescue, I realized that I would have to make the soup once I arrived at Paula’s house. While the recipe is not difficult, I am the baker of this family, not the chef. And, with the exception of Mama Mia’s Brodo, making soup does not fall within my usual domain.

But Tony assured me that my skills were up to the task, and with a new mama to please, I knew I had to give it my best effort. Once I got started, I was surprised by how easy this soup was to make. The only challenge I experienced was in making the blond roux, a mixture of butter and flour used to thicken the soup. I have to confess, with a chef as my husband, I’d never had to make a blond roux before.

My first attempt was a deep, rich, beautiful brown color, probably perfect for a gumbo but definitely not Asparagus Bleu Cheese Soup. I called Tony and he talked me through my next batch, and I realized that I had set the heat too high the first time. This time the roux came out perfectly, but if you’re uncertain of your skills, take a moment to watch Tony’s video demonstration on InforumTV.com this week.

Much to my surprise, my Asparagus Bleu Cheese Soup looked and tasted almost exactly like the soup we serve at Sarello’s. Beautifully golden-green in color, the texture was light and velvety smooth. The pungent creaminess of the bleu cheese partnered wonderfully with the bright, delicate and overall green flavor of the asparagus.

Even from a distance, Tony came to my rescue and helped me satisfy my sister’s craving, and I enhanced my culinary repertoire in the process.

We’d love to have you join us at Sarello’s on Monday for our next cooking class featuring Asparagus Bleu Cheese Soup and Poached Salmon Two Ways. For information, email us at dine@sarellos.com or call Sarello’s at (218) 287-0238.

Asparagus Bleu Cheese Soup

Yield: 4-6 servings

Ingredients

1 pound or bunch of asparagus

1 small onion, roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic, diced

4 tablespoons unsalted butter (half a stick)

1 quart chicken stock

1 tablespoon roux

½ cup heavy cream

½ cup crumbled bleu cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Cut one inch off the bottoms of the asparagus to remove the woody stalk, then cut each stalk into one-inch pieces, reserving the tips for garnish.

Melt the butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat, then sauté the onion, garlic and asparagus for five minutes. Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer for 45 minutes on low heat.

Whisk in the roux to thicken the mixture, adding more if needed. Add cream and bleu cheese, then puree the mixture using an immersion blender (you may also use a blender or food processor). Add salt and pepper to taste, then use the bottom of a ladle to gently push the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer until all the strings are removed and the texture is smooth and velvety. Pour into serving bowls and garnish with asparagus tips and crumbled bleu cheese.

Tony’s Tip

To simplify the flavor, you may omit the bleu cheese as a garnish and use toasted pine nuts instead.

Storage

Soup can be stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for one week or in the freezer for up to two months.

Blond Roux

½ cup butter, shortening, lard or vegetable oil (the more flavorful the fat, the better the roux)

½ cup flour

(The ratio we use to make a roux is 1:1)

Melt the butter in a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat, then gradually whisk in the flour until it is completely incorporated with the butter.

Cook over medium-low heat for about three to five minutes, whisking constantly until a light straw color is achieved. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. The roux will harden when refrigerated so that you can break it off in pieces.

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