Thursday, April 7, 2011

Asparagus and Cheese Soup

Asparagus heralds spring like nothing else. Tender, green stalks push up from the ground when other vegetables are just getting started.

About the worst thing you can do to asparagus is overcook it and it is easy to do. This will make it turn an icky yellow-green color and will sap all the flavor and texture from it. Sometimes, this is the only kind of asparagus my clients have had--and that makes them no fan of the veggie. But, cooking it correctly makes all the difference; I have converted several of my clients to this delicious and healthful vegetable.

This recipe is geared toward babying the asparagus, so you shouldn't have any trouble with it.

Note: I love the new red potatoes in this recipe. But, once I forgot to buy the potatoes and had some leftover rice in the fridge. I dumped it into the soup, in place of the potatoes, and it made a creamy, comforting soup. Now I can't decide which I like best, so I have given you instructions for both. Hope you enjoy!

Asparagus and Cheese Soup
6-8 servings

1/2 large onion, chopped finely
2 medium carrots, chopped finely
1 red pepper, chopped finely
3 tablespoons canola oil
4 tablespoons flour
1 to 1 1/2 pound asparagus spears, tough ends trimmed off* and remainder chopped into 1 inch pieces
4 cups milk (I use 1 percent)
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
8 ounces new red potatoes, cubed, OR 1 1/2 cup cooked white rice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (about 8 ounces)
8 ounces ham, chopped
1 tablespoon butter (optional)

In a large pot, heat oil and saute onion, carrots and pepper until tender. Sprinkle flour over vegetables and stir to coat.

Add asparagus, milk, broth, potatoes (if using) and seasonings.

Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly; reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 10 minutes or until vegetables are just tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in ham and rice (if using) and turn off heat. Add cheese and stir until it melts. Stir in butter, if desired.

*The easiest way to trim asparagus is to hold each spear in two hands and bend. It will snap at the place where it should be discarded.

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