Asparagus and Spinach Soup with Roasted Garlic Custards

IMG_2735 (575x332)Since fresh spring asparagus in abundant supply, not to mention frequently on sale, it was the perfect time to try a special asparagus soup I had been eyeing for a long while.  With its crowning centerpiece of a roasted garlic custard, it makes an elegant first course for a special spring dinner.

All things being relative, I wanted to compare this soup which was absolutely divine with the asparagus soup which was absolutely fabulous I made last month.  That soup was quite similar in that it was puréed and also had a custard, only Parmesan rather than garlic, as its centerpiece.  Both soups had velvety textures and both custards were silky smooth.

As for differences, this soup is almost equal parts asparagus and spinach whereas last month’s soup was asparagus only, resulting in a distinct asparagus flavor.  Today’s soup with its two-vegetable combo as well as a cup of potatoes to add creaminess without the cream had a flavor that was more incognito.  It was hard to say whether it tasted more like one vegetable over the other.  I’d have to say, though, that it tasted pleasingly “green.”  It was also, again due to the potatoes, a bit thicker than last month’s although easily thinned out with a bit more chicken broth if you wanted a thinner soup.

Given how much I love garlic, I was quite surprised to find that I preferred the Parmesan custard of last month’s asparagus soup over the garlic custard of today’s.  Sacré bleu—how could that be?!  Truly, I don’t know the answer to that question; but Roger agreed with me.  Even though he’s 100% Swedish, he loves garlic almost as much as I do.  He always says that if he can’t smell the garlic when he opens the door after being out of the house for a while then there isn’t enough in whatever it is I’m cooking.

So, if this were a contest, I’d give the edge to the asparagus soup with Parmesan custards with the asparagus and spinach soup a close second but only if you make the Parmesan custard to go with it rather than the garlic custard.  Still hard for me to believe.  It’s a good thing Roger felt the same way, or I might be searching for a doctor who specialized in taste bud disorders!

One year ago:  Poached Pear and Blue Cheese Appetizer

Two years ago:  Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cake

Asparagus and Spinach Soup with Roasted Garlic Custards

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Ingredients for the Garlic Custards

  • 1 large head garlic
  • 3 large eggs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup light cream or half-and-half
  • 3/4 cup lower-salt chicken broth
  • Softened unsalted butter or oil for the ramekins

Ingredients for the Soup

  • 2 tbl. unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped shallots or onions
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt
  • 1-1/2 lbs. thick asparagus, trimmed, spears chopped, tips reserved
  • 1 cup peeled and diced Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1 quart lower-salt chicken broth
  • 2 cups lightly packed spinach leaves
  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche (sour cream can be substituted)
  • Parmesan cheese for sprinkling, optional (original recipe did not call for it, but I think it’s a nice addition)

Directions for the Custards

Heat the oven to 350°F.  Cut about 1/4  inch from the top of the garlic head to expose the cloves.  Wrap the head in foil and bake until the garlic is very soft, about 45 minutes. When cool enough to handle, separate the cloves and squeeze the garlic from the skins into a blender or food processor.

Add the eggs, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper to the roasted garlic.

IMG_2715 (575x557)Pulse until completely smooth.  Pulse in the cream and broth.

Generously butter or oil six 4-oz. ovenproof ramekins and put them in a deep roasting pan.  Divide the custard mixture among the ramekins and fill the roasting pan with enough boiling water to come three-quarters of the way up the sides of the ramekins.

Bake the custards until the centers are just set and the tops are very lightly browned, 35 to 40 minutes.  Remove the ramekins from the water bath and cool on a rack to room temperature before unmolding.

IMG_2719 (575x318)Directions for the Soup

In a 4-quart saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the shallots or onions, fennel seed, red pepper flakes, and a big pinch of salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are tender but not brown, about 2 minutes.

Add the chopped asparagus spears and potatoes; cook for 1 minute. Stir in the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, have ready a bowl of ice water.  Bring a small pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat.  Add the asparagus tips and cook until tender but still bright green, about 2 minutes.  Drain and then transfer the tips to the ice water to cool.  Drain again and set aside.

Remove the soup from the heat, add the spinach, and stir until wilted.  Use an immersion blender to purée the soup in the pan.  If you do not have an immersion blender, work in batches to purée the soup in a blender being careful to vent the hot soup so that the blender cover doesn’t blow off.  Return the soup to the stove.  Stir in the crème fraîche and heat through.  Season to taste with salt.

Run a knife around the edge of each custard, tap the sides of the ramekins with your hand to loosen the custards, and invert them onto a cutting board.  Set out six wide-rimmed shallow soup bowls and carefully place one custard top side up in the center of each.  Ladle the soup around the custards, garnish with the asparagus tips, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese if using and serve.

Make Ahead Tips

The custards can be made up to 1 day ahead; cover and refrigerate.  Return to room temperature before serving.

IMG_2726 (575x383)Source:  Adapted from a Fine Cooking recipe

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