Portion/Yield:Serves 4 as a starter or light lunch
The arrival of the British asparagus season is a joyous time. British asparagus is classed as some of the best in the world and our national consumption figures show that we have a healthy appetite for these delicate stems. Most people still class asparagus as a delicacy, and when the British season starts, it features with pride on most restaurant menus.
The season normally runs from May until June, but it is largely dependent on the weather. A mild winter and a warm spring will bring the asparagus season forward, whereas a late, cold winter and a chilly spring will delay the season.
East Anglia provides some of the country’s best asparagus crops and we are delighted to be right in the heart of it all. Asparagus, like peas, broad beans and Brussels sprouts, should be eaten as soon as it’s harvested. Once harvested, the sugars turn into starch, the taste changes and mellows and eventually the asparagus becomes tasteless. We are lucky enough to have one of the region’s largest asparagus producers nearby us in Suffolk and, even better, is the fact that they deliver freshly picked asparagus every day to many local restaurants, cafés and farm shops, including ours. It’s amazing that we can readily buy such fresh asparagus and that we can serve asparagus at lunchtime in our restaurant that’s only been harvested that same morning.
There are many classic asparagus recipes and a few ingredients that are synonymous with asparagus, such as eggs, mayonnaise and ham. Asparagus requires care and attention when cooking and it needs to be cooked quickly to prevent overcooking (which will spoil the taste and cause discolouration).
The method for this soup is straightforward. I cook the soup base with plenty of onions, sliced potatoes, white wine and stock, and then once the soup base is ready, I quickly pan-fry the asparagus stems and heads in olive oil, then blend it all together with a dash of double cream. I use as much of the asparagus spear as possible, the only part that is not edible is the very end of the stem that is woody and tough.
Ingredients & Method
For the crisp asparagus filo rolls
- 16 thin asparagus spears
- 2 sheets of chilled fresh or frozen (defrosted) filo pastry (each sheet about 40 x 30cm)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- about 1 teaspoon ground sumac, to season
- about 1 teaspoon ras el hanout, to season
For the asparagus soup
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 1 large potato, finely sliced
- 200ml dry white wine
- 750ml vegetable
- 100ml double cream
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 250g asparagus spears, trimmed and chopped
- sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- rapeseed oil, for drizzling
- 8 teaspoons fresh curd cheese
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
First, make the asparagus filo rolls. Shorten the asparagus into 8cm long spears and set aside. Reserve the trimmed stems and use them in the soup. Cut the filo pastry into sixteen 5 x 12cm strips, lightly brush each strip with melted butter and then sprinkle each strip with a pinch of sumac and a pinch of ras el hanout.
Place an asparagus spear on one end of one strip of filo, leaving the tip exposed, and then roll up the spear in the filo pastry to make a roll. Repeat with the remaining filo strips and asparagus spears to make 16 asparagus filo rolls. Place on a plate and chill in the fridge while cooking the soup (see Cook’s Notes).
For the soup, melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the onion, potato and salt and pepper, then cover and sweat over a low heat for 8–10 minutes or until the vegetables are softened but not coloured at all. Pour the wine into the pan and let it bubble, stirring and scraping the base of the pan with a wooden spoon to deglaze it. Cook over a high heat for 5–7 minutes or until the wine is reduced by half of its original volume and it becomes syrupy. Add the stock, bring back to a simmer, then cover and simmer gently for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked. Add the cream and simmer for a further 5 minutes, then remove from the heat.
Heat the olive oil in a large, non-stick frying pan and sauté the chopped asparagus (together with the reserved trimmed stems from the asparagus filo rolls), with salt and pepper added, for 3–4 minutes or until the asparagus has softened slightly.
Carefully transfer the soup to a blender, add the sautéed asparagus and purée until smooth. Return the soup to the pan and reheat gently, then taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Keep hot until you are ready to serve.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180ºC/Gas Mark 4 and line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Place the asparagus filo rolls on the prepared baking tray and bake in the oven for 15–18 minutes or until crisp and golden.
To serve, ladle the hot soup into bowls. Garnish with a drizzle of rapeseed oil, then top each portion with 2 teaspoons curd cheese and a few thyme leaves. Serve immediately with the crisp asparagus filo rolls on the side (serve 4 asparagus rolls per portion).
The asparagus filo rolls can be made up to 2 days in advance, but do not bake them until needed. Store them in an airtight container in the fridge. Once baked, they are delicious served hot or cold.
The asparagus soup is equally delicious served cold. If serving cold, it’s important to chill the soup as quickly as possible as it will quickly discolour and lose its bright green colour. Once made and blended, pour the soup into a suitable container and place the container in iced water. Once cool, chill the soup in the fridge over ice for at least 2 hours before serving.