Monday, May 11, 2009

Spring Part Deux: 15-Minute Asparagus Soup and Martha's Spring Chicken Ragout

Inspiration is not something that I find myself struggling to find. In fact, I have to limit my sensory intake sometimes because I often find myself feeling drawn in too many directions at once. (This is one reason I try to stay away from the computer. It's too easy to spend time observing other people's work while neglecting my own.) I have never wanted for dreams, inspired by something I've encountered along the way to something I thought I wanted.

That said, I have recently made a shift in perspective as to where I look for inspiration when it comes to putting together a meal. In my early independent cooking days, I built my meals around my basic education as a home cook. The sources for inspiration were new ingredients that I was discovering for the first time and new techniques that I was mastering.

When I was a graduate student, my meals were centered around being cheap, easy, and not requiring too much heat, as my oven easily overheated our one-bedroom apartment.

Now that we are homeowners, equipped with copious local resources for very high quality produce, dairy, and meats, and beginning to grow food ourselves, I'm really starting to shift the focus in my cooking to the ingredients that are seasonally appropriate. The farmer's market is finally back, and my local coop is filling up with fresh produce. I am slowly learning which items I ought to carefully select and use in abundance in each season, being wary of off-season substitutes that resemble the real thing but pale in comparison in taste. (I was lured into buying a big red tomato last week. It was terrible. I should have known.)

My big inspiration lately, as you might have guessed, has been asparagus. It is abundant at our farmer's market (unlike other very springy things like leeks and green garlic, which sell out very early and thus are never enjoyed by lazy, sleep-starved people like me.) and it has great flavor this time of year. So I've been looking for stalks about the size of my pointer finger and cooking them in liquid.

First, I made up a very simple soup that I've enjoyed all week.

15-Minute Asprargus Soup

Chop up

one bunch of asparagus
one medium yellow onion


3-5 cloves of garlic (if you're into that kind of thing)

Heat up a couple tablespoons of canola oil and sweat the asparagus and onion over medium heat. (almost no browing,mostly steaming.)

Once the asparagus is very green and the onion is translucent and soft (approx. 5-7 minutes), add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. (Don't let it get brown!)

Then, remove the tip pieces of asparagus. You'll use these whole in the final presentation of the dish.

Then, add

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2-2/3 c. half and half, milk, or cream

Cook this whole mixture for a few minutes, until it has reduced by 1/3 or so.

Then puree the rest of the soup.

I used this opportunity to whip out my immersion blender. (I made this entire soup in a sauce pan!)

Put a few tips of asparagus into a bowl and ladel the soup on top. I find it crucial with soups to have some texture. Nobody likes to eat babyfood.

This soup is very fast, very simple, and very delicious.

Here's a bad photo for you-

This soup represents one kind of recipe that I find very satisfying. It's straightforward, and the few ingredients really sing. I made it up on the fly, motivated by the mounds of asparagus I'd picked up at farmer's market, and it is the kind of dish I see myself making every spring at least once.

Sometimes I get the itch to cook something a little more involved, and I have a few sources for recipes to try. I find Martha Stewart's recipes to be very good, and this spring ragout begged me to make it for days before I finally gave in. I found this book in the clearance section at our local Stuff, Etc., which has become a great source for cookbooks for me. I think I paid 80 cents for this book, hardcover and in great shape. (This dish is on the cover!)

Spring Chicken Ragout

adapted from Martha Stewart

Fry in a pan-

2 pieces of chicken, bone in, skin removed, seasoned with salt and pepper. (Martha calls for breasts. All we had was quarters: thighs and drumsticks)

Once these are browned on both sides, add

1 3/4 c. chicken stock
4 tbsp. canned chopped tomatoes

Cook, covered, on low for around 20 minutes.

Remove the chicken.

Let it cool, and shred it off the bone.

Meanwhile, add to the liquid

1 leek, sliced, rinsed, and spun through a salad spinner (I find this to be the most reliable way to get rid of the grit that comes with leeks)

Ooh, you can see the baguette that is part of the snack I ate while I made this dinner.

Best spring snack ever?

Baguette+fresh butter+sliced breakfast radish+fleur de sel{+fresh ground black pepper. SO GOOD.

Ok back to the ragout.

If you have a bunch of free time, shell some fresh peas. This takes for.e.ver. but they are so sweet and special in the final recipe that it's :almost: worth the time it takes to shell them.

Martha calls for one cup, since I'm sure she has people to shell her peas for her. Me, I barely got 1/4 c. But boy were they tasty, and pretty, hm?


1 bunch fresh asparagus, well cleaned, and chopped into 1-2 inch pieces.

Here are all the green things together. mmm.

You know what, now that we're thinking green, go get those chives. Chop them up and set them aside.

Now add all those veggies to the pan with the stock, along with 12 baby carrots that you've trimmed to equal size.

Cook for 5 more minutes.

Serve that over pasta with those chopped chives.

This is so simple, and so satisfying. It really represents for me a clear shift from cooler months to spring. I am craving simpler things, and even smaller portions. Summer makes me want light meals, vegetable centered, and broth based, rather than heavy cream based dishes, because that's what good right now.

My yard gave me these, too. :)

Next time, I owe Scoop an equipment review, and I'll talk a little more about my growing backyard garden. Hopefully it will soon include CHICKENS!

Oh yeah, dessert, right?

Vanilla ice cream, of course. God I love that machine.

So, where do you find your inspiration? How has that changed over your lifetime?

We will be moving into summer soon, but for now I am enjoying the warm, sunny days and cool nights of a true spring.


Joelen said...

This looks delicious! May I give your blog a shout out and have this blog post featured in my Foodie Films blogging event round up? We're highlighting Martha Stewart recipes and I'd love to include this!

Maggie said...

All of it looks amazing, as usual! I'm going to do that ragout this week, I can practically guarantee it. And may I just throw in an extra vote for the radish/butter/salt/baguette snack? They're just a little *too* good!

elly said...

The ragout sounds fabulous! I've saved the recipe so I hope to try it soon.

Linda said...

Hi Alicia!
I got a lucky break and bought an ice cream maker on sale at Target today for $25! When I return from my vacation next week, the first thing I plan on making is one of your frogurt recipes. Maybe the raspberry one...or vanilla. Oh, what the heck.. why not both, eh?!

The Target one is a Rival brand (no salt rocks required). I really wanted a Cuisinart but felt that I should take baby steps before making a bigger investment.

I'd still be keen on reading your product review.

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