Disclaimer June, 2014 : I have used the term “lusty vegan” in my blogs without knowing a book by that name was going to be published; I naively thought it was my own phrase. Just so you know. Not a thief!
In Colorado, spring comes in fits and starts, swirling itself in and out through March, April, and sometimes May. There are warm days where we heat up the grill at five pm followed by frozen hoarfrost mornings perfect for stew-making. We, unlike most of the northern United States, have truly fine days long before the real start of spring; January and February can breed 55 or 60 degrees Fahrenheit afternoons when the windows are thrown open for the stagnant winter aromas to dissipate into sweet, albeit temporary, breezes floating down from the mountains. A cook who lives within the seasons and responds accordingly often doesn’t know what to do but be exceedingly spontaneous and keep a daily eye on the weather channel.
Despite snow still appearing on an at least weekly basis, I have for weeks been dreaming of spring vegetables and a new soup to celebrate them. It’s not that we have any spring vegetables cropping up (good pun) in Colorado Springs; we have so little rain that locally-grown vegetables are like gold. And where we live, up on the mesa, it’s bedrock, bobcats, coyotes, deer, and bears. If you had the good luck to get anything to grow, you could be sure something not-so-human would be eating it. I grow copious amounts of herbs in pots and often have cherry tomatoes in hanging baskets on the deck. That’s about it; that’s all I can protect from the wildlife.
below: one of our local young and scrawny bucks making his way through our back garden
Still–the idea of spring food is dear to my heart and I have lovely memories of the Saint Paul Farmer’s Market and its bounty. (In Saint Paul, the Farmer’s Market is still selling winter products, I’m sure. Way too early to plant, though they’re all dreaming and many are starting seeds indoors.) Happy spring vegetables like fennel, asparagus, and leeks deserve their very own dishes with luscious and copious amounts of fresh herbs to encourage them along. While I love asparagus soup ( and who doesn’t), adore leek and potato soup (same thing), and will put sautéed spicy fennel on just about anything, I kept thinking of a soup that featured all of them. Together.
Blended or not, but definitely with some small pieces of barely tender asparagus thrown in at the end.
So I punted, nearly delirious with the idea... I began with a basic mirepoix plus crushed red pepper and garlic to which I added fresh herbs — lemon thyme, parsley, and dill. A little wine to sweeten the deal, a big mix of chopped asparagus, leeks, and fennel, and then a long drink of vegetable stock.
I cooked it all down — doesn’t take long — blended it briefly (I didn’t want baby food) and served it hot garnished with a bit more chopped fresh dill as well as with the tiny asparagus pieces. If you’d like this soup cold, for lunch at work, for instance, you would not be unhappy. This version is vegan, but needn’t be if you’d rather use half butter and half olive oil, chicken broth, or grated Parmesan for garnish. The upside of the vegan soup is that you’ve just about gotten in all of your veggies in one sitting with very few unnecessary calories. Did I say this is so good we all adored it? Try it soon anytime or for a Lenten Friday-night meal:
If you make your own vegetable stock, which is quite fast, you can use the rinsed trimmings from all of these vegetables, as well as others you might have kept. This soup is a bit spicy. Cut the crushed red pepper in half if you like things a bit milder. Listen to “It Might as Well Be Spring” while you cook.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 each: carrots and celery stalks, chopped
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon thyme or thyme (or 2 teaspoons dried)
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh dill plus 3 tablespoons more for garnish
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup dry white wine (such as Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio)
- 1 large or 2 small fennel bulbs, trimmed, cored, and sliced
- 2 leeks, trimmed and thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)
- 1/2 pound –or more– asparagus, trimmed — cut off tips and reserve, then cut rest into 1 -2-inch pieces
- 2 quarts vegetables stock (I like Deborah Madison’s or you can buy boxes of stock at the grocery)
- 1 cup water
- Juice of half-lemon, optional
In a six-quart stock pot, heat oil and crushed red pepper over medium flame for one minute. Add onions, carrots, and celery and season with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Let cook 5 minutes or until vegetables are softening. Stir in thyme, parsley, dill, and garlic; let cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Pour in wine and bring to a boil for a minute or two or until wine is reduced. Add fennel, leeks, and the 1 – 2-inch pieces of asparagus and all of the stock and water. Bring back to a boil, lower heat, and simmer until vegetables are very tender –about 15 minutes.
In the meantime, bring a small pot of water to boil and cook the asparagus tips for just a couple of minutes until nearly tender. Drain, reserve if soup isn’t done yet, and add to the soup just before serving. Adjust seasonings, adding more salt or pepper if needed. Garnish each bowl with a small sqeeze of lemon, if using, and a teaspoon of the reserved chopped fresh dill.
Wine: Sauvignon Blanc–I think you’d be happy with nearly any, but I’d skip the New Zealand bottles –too citrusy– and pick up either a French or a California one–which might also be a Fumé Blanc. My very favorite of the lot is a Sancerre; you should be able to find one in your local wine shop.
2-Dog Kitchen and Around the ‘Hood
Sing a new song; sing of spring,