Once a delicacy reserved for royalty and rulers, asparagus was bestowed the title "King of Vegetables" by the ancient Egyptians. According to The World Encyclopedia of Vegetables, the ancient Greeks enjoyed wild asparagus, but it was not until the Roman period that it was cultivated. It's said that Julius Caesar best enjoyed his asparagus dishes with melted butter. Simple and delicious.
A member of the lily family, asparagus comes from the Greek word 'asparagos' which first appeared in English print around 1000 AD. It cannot be definitively tracked to any one specific area of origin, although it is believed to be native to the eastern Mediterranean and Asia.
Asparagus is generally known as a vegetable, however it has also been grown as a medicinal herb for over 2000 years. It is reputed to help eyesight, soothe toothache and take the pain out of insect stings (in this case when crushed and applied to the affected area).
Fresh asparagus is versatile, and quick and easy to cook. It makes a delicious risotto or soup, can be pan or stir-fried in a little melted butter and, in this manner, cooks in just minutes. Combine asparagus with garlic, zucchini and tomatoes for the perfect pizza topping. Use it in a frittata or serve it poached with lightly poached eggs and salt and pepper. It's also delicious made into soup, such as this potato and leek vichyssoise with asparagus.
POTATO, LEEK AND ASPARAGUS SOUP
60g unsalted butter
200g bunch asparagus
4 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup milk
grated zest of a lemon, to garnish
freshly ground white pepper, to season
sea salt, to season
sour cream to garnish, optional
Wash the leeks thoroughly under cold running water to clean out dirt caught between the leaves. Slice the white and pale green areas of the stem thinly. Peel and chop the potatoes. Cut the asparagus into 2 cm pieces.
Melt the butter in a heavy-based pan, add the leeks and cook, stirring, until they are soft and golden. Add the potatoes, stir for 1-2 minutes, then pour in the stock, lower the heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes until the potatoes are starting to be tender. Add the asparagus pieces and simmer for 10-15 minutes longer. Allow to cool briefly.
With a stick blender or (transfer to) a food processor, puree the soup until it is a smooth consistency. Return it to the pan and reheat gently. Season with freshly ground pepper and sea salt. Garnish with lemon zest, and sour cream if using.
Tell me dear readers, do you enjoy asparagus? Have you ever used it in risotto or soup?
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.