In search of perfection -or- Asparagus and blue cheese soup with Parmesan crackers

Ahhh, the end of spring. The subtle change of Seattle temperatures, the fading of the rain, daffodils turn to tulips turn to lilies, and I eat massive amounts of rhubarb and asparagus before they disappear.

There are certain recipes for which I am always on the prowl. One of these is asparagus soup. It is one of my favorite vegetables. It always feels very elegant to me, not to mention that it tastes so darn good.

Last summer I had one of the best asparagus soups ever. I was in Hawaii with Mr. Man having an amazing time. Our last night on the island of Oahu we went to the Orchid Restaurant at the Halekulani Hotel which, coincidentally serves the best tropical drinks I have ever had (it probably doesn't hurt that the bar is on the beach with Diamond Head off in the distance with traditional hula dancers and musicians performing just a few feet in front of you...and my handsome Mr. Man contributed to the good time too).

The bar area is called House Without a Key. Don't you just love that name? Makes me want to sit back with a refreshing drink and daydream. Which is exactly what you do there.

Anyway, back to the soup.
At the Orchid that evening, we had an asparagus and blue cheese soup that was incredible. I have been dreaming of it ever since. The soup I made tonight, was pretty darn good. It is really close. I will keep trying, but in the mean time consider this to be my final draft.

Asparagus and Blue Cheese Soup with Parmesan Crackers
serves 4-6

This version involves making a roux which adds a deep flavor and thickens the soup. It may seem annoying to do, but I think it really adds another layer to the soup. Making a roux is one of those things that people are always a little afraid of, but really aren't all that difficult. It just involves a little patience and a watchful eye.

2 lbs. asparagus, hard ends snapped, the chop the top parts

1 C. onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed
4 C. vegetable stock
4 tbs. butter
4 tbs. flour
2 C. milk
1 C. yogurt, plus extra for serving
2 tbs. lemon juice
1/4 lbs. good quality blue cheese, crumbled
salt and pepper to taste
one handful fresh herbs such as oregano, chives, or basil, coarsely chopped (optional)

1 C. shredded Parmesan for the crackers

Place the asparagus, onion, garlic and 2 cups of the stock in a large pot and bring it to a boil. Remove from heat when the asparagus is still bright green, but a bit tender, about 3-5 minutes. Then puree it all in a blender or food processor until very smooth.

In another large saucepan heat the butter over low heat. Once it has completely melted add the flour one tablespoon at a time. Stir after each addition until it is completely mixed in. After you have added all the flour continue to stir and cook over a med-low heat until it becomes golden in color. Then add the remaining two cups of stock by slowly pouring it in while you stir constantly. Don't give up on the stirring! Otherwise your roux will become lumpy. Not a reason to throw the soup out, but not the reason you went through all the trouble to make this soup!

Once you have added all the stock pour the puree in and mix thoroughly. Then add the milk and stir again. Place the yogurt and lemon juice into a separate container and add some of the soup to it and mix that up too. This will prevent it from being lumpy. Once you have mixed it all up pour it back in the soup and, yup, you guessed it, mix it up again. Then add the blue cheese and continue to stir until it melts. While you do this go ahead and taste it and add whatever extra salt and pepper you think it needs.

Parmesan Crackers
Heat a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Place small pinches of the Parmesan into the pan and cook them until they turn a golden brown all over. Allow them to cool on a paper towel while you cook the other batches.

Serve the soup with a dollop of yogurt, Parmesan cracker, and fresh herbs.


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