Asparagus Soup with Parmesan Custards

After our long, dreary Chicago winter, I saw my first worm on my patio the other day, followed by my first robin the next day (24 hours too late to catch that worm which had skedaddled—if a worm is capable of skedaddling, that is), with that followed by the first sale of the season on asparagus at my local supermarket.  I hereby declare that Spring has officially arrived!

I bought the asparagus with a couple of soups particularly in mind.  Both soup recipes are similar in that the asparagus is puréed and both have a custard centerpiece.  In one instance, it was a Parmesan custard; and, in the other, it was a garlic custard.  Since I have garlic in my DNA, I was going to make the second recipe; but then I ran short on time (roasting the garlic takes extra time) and decided to go with this one.  I have every intention of trying the garlic custard before the asparagus season is over.

This soup is meant to impress—if the boss is coming over for dinner, make this soup!  If you’re meeting your prospective in-laws for the first time, make this soup!  Special anniversary coming up?  You get the idea.

The soup itself is savory and full of asparagus flavor.  And the custard—oh, the custard!  It is silky smooth and packed with rich Parmesan flavor.  I tried to make sure that I had a spoonful of custard with every spoonful of soup.  The pairing of flavors was simply outstanding.

Spring has gotten off to a very good start in my kitchen!

One year ago:  Green Chili aka Mean Green Pig

Asparagus Soup with Parmesan Custards

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Ingredients for Custards

  • 2 1/2 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano, coarsely grated (1 1/4 cups)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 whole large egg
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of white pepper

Ingredients for Soup

  • 1 large leek (white and pale green parts only), finely chopped (1 1/4 cups)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shallot
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

IMG_2588 (575x367)Garnish

Parmigiano-Reggiano curls, shaved from a wedge with a vegetable peeler

Special equipment:  6 (2-oz) ramekins

Directions

Make custards:

Bring cheese, cream, and milk just to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat and steep, covered, 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 300°F.

Pour steeped cream through a very fine sieve into a bowl, pressing lightly on cheese solids and discarding them.  Whisk together whole egg, yolks, salt, and white pepper in another bowl, then add steeped cream in a stream, whisking until smooth.  Divide among well-buttered ramekins.

IMG_2596 (575x435)

Set ramekins in a baking pan and bake in a hot water bath in middle of oven until centers of custards are completely set, 40 to 45 minutes.  Transfer ramekins to a rack and cool 5 minutes (do not allow to cool longer, or custards will stick to ramekins).

IMG_2598 (575x374)

Make soup while cream steeps and custards bake:

Wash chopped leek in a bowl of cold water, then lift out and drain well.  Cook leek, shallot, pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in butter in a 4- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring, until leek is softened, about 3 minutes.  Add asparagus, broth, and water and simmer, covered, until asparagus is just tender, 10 to 12 minutes.  After 2 to 4 minutes, remove 6 asparagus tips, halve lengthwise and reserve for garnish.

Purée soup in batches in a blender until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids).  Transfer to a large bowl, then pour through a sieve into cleaned pot.  Stir in cream, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste and heat over moderately low heat until hot.

Serve soup with custards:

Working with one custard at a time, run a thin knife around edge of each to loosen it, then invert a shallow soup bowl over ramekin and invert custard into bowl.  Repeat with remaining custards.  Ladle soup around custards and garnish with reserved asparagus tips and Parmesan curls.

Soup can be made 1 day ahead.  Cool, uncovered, then chill, covered.

Fran’s Notes

It is important to use shallow soup bowls so as not to cover up the custards.

If you plan to make this for dinner guests, I highly recommend you make the soup a day ahead of time.  When I read the reviewers’ comments on epicurious, I saw that several people made the custards ahead of time as well.  I saved one custard to see how it would reheat the next day and to see if it would come out of the ramekin easily.  It reheated quite nicely and also came out of the ramekin intact as it had the day before when I had just taken it out of the oven.

Source:  An April 2002 recipe from Gourmet magazine

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