"It sort of goes against the grain to turn the most beautiful of vegetables into a soup." Simon Hopkinson
My next first recipe has been sitting on my desk for weeks, so I think it's time to tackle it at last. The book is Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume II which I have to admit I have not used nearly as much as volume I and there is no real reason for this, as there are lots of good recipes in there. Of course I bought it. The first volume had been so influential in my early attempts at cooking French food, so of course I rushed to buy the second volume when it came out in paperback. I was poor back then, so there was no lavish spending on hardback editions. It sits on my shelf in pretty good condition because it has not been much used, and with pages slowly yellowing at the edges.
The one thing I do remember trying, or at least considered trying was a baguette, which involved much rising of dough and a wet brick covered with a wet tea towel in the oven. I think I read it through and was just too daunted to try. Besides I had no bricks to hand.
Louise Bertholle, the third member of the group who wrote volume 1 did not participate in volume 2, having recently married, and also I think having a minor falling out with Julia Child and Simone Beck. Whatever happened she is absent and Julia Child's voice is dominant in the text of the book, although Simone Beck would definitely have been a major part of the project. Which of course would have been huge in spite of only covering seven areas of French cooking - soup and seafood stews; baking bread and pastries; meat; poached and sauced chicken; charcuterie; vegetables and desserts. Though doesn't that cover just about everything anyway?
So, already with a bit of foreboding I turned to the first recipe to find Potage, crème d'asperges vertes (Cream of fresh green asparagus soup). Asparagus is such a short season thing isn't it? Well real Australian asparagus anyway. And when it appeared this year in quantity and at really cheap prices I bought quite a few bundles of it and turned it into delicious side dishes of very basically cooked asparagus, or quiches and suchlike. Not soup. And having just briefly browsed my cookbook library I see that not many of my favourite cooks are that keen either, although they all almost without exception adore asparagus itself.
I can't find the Mastering the Art recipe online either. This is perhaps a picture of the sort of thing it should look like. Like all Mastering the Art recipes the recipe is long - two pages - and actually it's not that simple. You blanch the chopped stalks, then the tops separately. Dain, retaining their cooking water. Braise onions in butter until soft, add the blanched asparagus stalks, add flour, add cooking water and some milk. Cook until thickened and then purée. At this point most cooks just add the asparagus tops and serve, but Julia and Simone go further. They heat some cream, whisk in some egg yolks and then very slowly add the hot soup. Finishing with the tops to garnish. Not that tricky really, just a little bit. You'd have to be careful not to end up with asparagus flavoured scrambled eggs.
It is interesting though that although asparagus soup is a very common tinned soup lots of chefs don't do it. I guess they consider that asparagus is so seasonal that making it into soup is a waste. And you know. I think they are right. I mean it's not like that pile of lettuce that would be great turned into soup is it?