I don’t love white asparagus. To me, it’s a weirdo bitter albino Teutonic thing that’s acquired the hallmarks of fine dining because of its delicacy and relative scarcity. I say “relative” because now, on any given day, you can walk into any WholeFoods in this country and pick up a bunch – they seem to be grown in hothouses in Mexico.
After eighth grade, I spent the summer in Germany tormenting my former Montessori preschool teacher and her relatives. I won’t go into the sordid details here; my mother reads this from time to time and some questions about my past remain unanswered. To keep it that way, all you need to know for purposes of this piece is that, for about three months, from Hannover to the Bodensee, I gave Americans a pretty bad name. Anyway, it will be no great surprise to you to learn that German food is hearty, even in summer. I gained over ten pounds on liver dumplings (leberknödel), stuffed cabbage (krautwickel), various sausages (wurst), fried potatoes (kartoffeln), and my favorites, schnitzel and spätzle. I also had white asparagus (spargel) in a few of its tastier preparations. White asparagus soup is a favorite in Germany – supplemented with heavy cream, of course – as are the spears simply steamed and doused in hollandaise, or wrapped in Westphalian ham and gratinéed under shredded cheese. I’m still not sure how Germany avoids being the world’s fattest nation.
Being from Wisconsin, I found the white asparagus preparation involving ham and cheese by far the most appealing. Recently, I sought some conventional green asparagus for a spring ricotta gnocchi dish and, finding none (weirdly considering this is April), I picked up the white stalks instead. I decided not to use it for the gnocchi – too much white and white, I felt – and had to figure out how to dispose of it. The ham-wrapped asparagus came to mind. I found a quart of bacon stock in the freezer – a byproduct of a braised bacon dish – and a bunch of parsley root. What could be better than these quintessentially German tastes in a soup?
White asparagus and parsley root soup
You will achieve the best results using a chamber sealer and then cooking the vegetables sous vide; they retain incredible flavor. But the soup will be plenty tasty if cooked conventionally, so don’t let me scare you off.
You probably won’t find parsley root unless you order it. I’ve only seen in in the market once. Small parsnips – harvested before they become thick and woody – will do in a pinch. They won’t taste quite like parsley root, but they’ll be delicious anyway.
1 1/4 lb white asparagus, peeled
3/4 lb parsley root, roots only, peeled – substitute small parsnips
2 bay leaves
6 branches thyme
2 tbsp ice cold butter
4 c bacon stock
6 cloves garlic confit
1/2 c heavy cream
Peel and trim the asparagus to 3″ lengths; peel abd slice the parsley root about 1/4″ lengthwise.
If cooking the vegetables sous vide, set the immersion circulator in a water bath at 183F/85C. Stack the asparagus in a single layer inside a vacuum bag with 1 tbsp butter, a bay leaf, and 3 sprigs thyme. Place the parsley root in a single layer inside a vacuum bag, again with 1 tbsp butter, a bay leaf, and 3 sprigs thyme. Seal each in a chamber sealer. Drop the bags in the circulator bath and cook for 25 minutes (asparagus) and 40 minutes (parsnips). Discard the herbs but not the butter. Bring the bacon stock to a simmer. Transfer 2 c stock to a vitaprep and add the parsley root, asparagus, whatever butter remains in the bags, and garlic confit.
[If not cooking sous vide, bring the bacon stock to a simmer and add herbs, garlic confit, and the parsnips, simmering, covered, until still slightly firm; add the asparagus and simmer until both are tender. Discard the herbs and transfer to a vitaprep/blender, reserving about 1 c of the stock.]
Blitz until smooth, resting briefly between blendings. Due to the saltiness of the bacon stock, you probably will not need additional salt, but taste and season if necessary. Add the cream and blitz again; taste again for seasoning and correct. Add more stock if necessary for a fluid soup consistency; you don’t want this to be a thick purée.
To allude to the cheese-y gratin thing, maybe accompany with a frico of grated cheese, or a toasted crouton topped with Gruyère. I laid a thin slice of house-cured ibérico lardo over the top as an homage to the ham, because I have a huge chunk of lardo to use up. You might want to use a slice of aged ham.
*Photo courtesy MarkusHagenlocher, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Wurzelpetersilie_Wurzel.jpg (I forgot to take a photo of my own before using it)