It all started with trying to find a way to use the woody, fibrous ends of the asparagus I’ve been getting at the market in Saint-Malo this spring. The tips and stalks are incredible, with an intense, grassy flavor you don’t get from those supermarket bunches back in the US. But for whatever reason—the climate in Brittany, how they’re grown, the variety the growers have chosen—a big part of each stalk tends to be woody and inedible. Because the price of asparagus is much higher in France than the US, it pains me to pay the cost for a bunch, only to throw about half of what I’ve paid for away because the ends are too tough to eat. (As in, chewing on them is a lot like chewing on a small twig, even after they’ve cooked a long time.) The easiest thing to do would be to boil them into an asparagus broth…But then what? Cream of asparagus soup? Meh. Winter’s over and I’m a tad sick of blended soups. But what about a soup that tasted rich and wonderful like, say, asparagus with Hollandaise? The soup base would have to be creamy, buttery and, above all, lemony….Hardly had the word “lemony” crossed my mind I knew just what to do. Avgolemono, the classic Greek soup thickened with eggs and spiked with lemon…just like Hollandaise sauce!
Oooh goody. Time to brainstorm ways to make it work. I’d simmer the stalks a good long time with some aromatics for a flavorful broth. I’d switch out the whole eggs in most avgolemono recipes for egg yolks for better color (vegetable broths turn things awfully gray and ugly) and more of a Hollandaise texture. I’d max out on lemon with juice and zest, and I’d fill the soup with small asparagus coins so there would be asparagus flavor in every bite. Oh, and I’d give it a swirl of butter at the very end for that Hollandaise touch.
Mickael, my vegetable guy tells me there are only a couple of weeks left for asparagus season on his farm, which means that if I want to make this soup again, I’ve got to get on it! But I’m already wondering how I can tailor it to other summer veggies. Zucchini, maybe? Corn? Peas might work too. After all, that lemony-Hollandaise-y flavor goes with just about everything.
Asparagus Avgolemono Soup
This recipe gave me a chance to do something I’d wanted to try for a long time: make an avgolemono soup that didn’t depend on chicken broth for a base flavor. The broth made from the leftover asparagus stems most people just throw away is a wonderful substitute (though you can still use chicken broth in the recipe if you wish). I really love how this recipe stretches a bunch of asparagus, which are among the pricier spring/summer vegetables out there. A 8 ounces (200 g.) is plenty for four servings, which means a one-pound bunch will leave you with enough asparagus for another dish/meal.
The soup calls for egg yolks or whole eggs; both will work, but egg yolks will give the soup a prettier color and thicker texture.
Some avgolemono recipes have you cook the rice (or orzo pasta) right in the broth. I prefer to cook it separately so you have better control over the soup’s thickness and consistency.
And finally…the soup is extra good when you make it ahead and reheat it (gently!) to serve.
2 cups asparagus stems (from about 1 lb. asparagus)
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 sprig fresh thyme or ¼ tsp. dried thyme
½ small bay leaf
¼ tsp. salt
5 egg yolks or 2 whole eggs
1/2 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into ¼-inch thick coins, tips left intact
2 tsp. grated lemon zest
¼ cup (55 ml.) lemon juice
1 cup (150 g.) cooked rice
2 Tbs. (25 g.) butter
lemon slices, for garnish, optional
To make the Asparagus Broth: Bring all the ingredients and 6 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Cover, and simmer 30 to 45 minutes, or until asparagus and onion are mushy. Strain, and discard the solids. Wipe out the saucepan, and return the asparagus broth to it. Bring to a boil.
To make the Soup: Whisk the egg yolks or whole eggs in a large bowl. Set aside.
Add the asparagus and lemon zest to the Asparagus Broth, and simmer 1 to 2 minutes, or until the asparagus are crisp-tender.
Gradually whisk 1 cup of the Asparagus Broth into the egg yolks or eggs (it’s OK if some of the asparagus pieces fall into it). Return the egg mixture to the saucepan, and cook the mixture over medium-low heat 1 to 2 minutes, or until thickened. (Do not boil.) Stir in the lemon juice and the rice, and gently reheat. Swirl in the butter, and season with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with lemon slices. To reheat the soup, warm gently without boiling. If making the soup ahead, swirl in the butter just before serving.