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asparagus soup with chile-spiced asparagus tips

It is a magical time of year in Southern California. The skies are clear and a brilliant blue from the recent rains, the temperatures are comfortable, and in the evenings the sweet scent of jasmine fills the air. Vibrant wildflowers paint the neighborhoods with their beautiful Spring blooms, multi-colored bougainvillea vines illuminate the hills with deep pinks and purples, and the deciduous plum trees that were bare throughout the winter are now covered in white flowers and buzzing with honey bees. We have been taking advantage of this pleasant weather, spending more time outside, and enjoying working in the garden. This weekend, we had a backyard brunch party with ten of our friends; a potluck feast of crisp salads, spring berries, handcrafted cocktails from our mixologist friend Al who introduced us to the light and bubbly Mid-Morning Fizz, and the centerpiece was a double batch of our shakshuka with crusty baguettes for dipping into the hearty sauce. There’s something special about sharing a meal outdoors with friends and family, and this is the time of year to do it before it starts to get too hot. Love is in the air, spring has arrived, and so has asparagus, whose tender shoots are one of the first spring vegetables to appear after the snows of winter. This delicious and comforting soup highlights this seasonal vegetable with simple ingredients that allow the fresh, sweet flavor of just-picked asparagus to truly shine.

This wonderful soup is made with just a few simple ingredients and is quick and easy to prepare. Two pounds of fresh asparagus are gently simmered with sautéed onions, minced garlic, a splash of white wine, and a little salt and pepper, then blended into a smooth purée. A handful of grated pecorino is stirred in to this satisfying base, bringing a sharp, savory flavor and rich creamy texture. And the best part is the chile-spiced asparagus tips which are cooked just before serving. Tossed in a sizzling skillet with olive oil and hot aleppo pepper until crispy and full of tangy, spicy flavor, these zesty tips are sprinkled over each bowl as a delicious crunchy garnish. The fragrant chile-infused oil from the pan is then drizzled over the soup, adding a gentle kick of heat and a streak of glowing orange color. Aleppo pepper is a bold spice used in middle eastern cooking, similar to red pepper flakes but milder and with a slight sweetness. Since it has a lower spice level, it can be used to bring extra flavor to a dish with just the right amount of heat.

This is an easy recipe that is fresh, healthy, delicious, and comes together in about 30 minutes. You simply chop the asparagus, a few cloves of garlic and an onion, grate a little cheese, and that’s it! The ingredients for the soup cook in one pot, and once it is simmering, you have 20 minutes to take a break and do whatever you’d like. While it is possible to find asparagus in stores throughout the year, it is at its best from March through May, so now is the ideal time to make this fresh soup! It is comforting on a rainy day, healing and warming if you’re sick, and a delicious reminder that Spring has arrived!

Asparagus Soup with Chile-Spiced Asparagus Tips
serves 4 to 6

For the soup:
2 pounds asparagus
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup white wine
4 cups vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 ounce (1/4 cup) pecorino romano cheese, finely grated

For the chile-spiced tips:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon aleppo pepper flakes (see note)
1/4 teaspoon salt

Wash and remove the tough ends from the asparagus, then cut off the tips and place them in a small bowl. Cut the spears into 1-inch lengths, and place them in a separate bowl from the tips.

In a 4-quart saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high. When hot, add the chopped onion and garlic, and cook until softened, about 5 to 7 minutes, Add the white wine, and stir until the liquid is nearly gone. Add the asparagus spears (not the tips), vegetable broth, salt, and pepper, and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, then cover pan, turn heat to low, and simmer gently for 20 minutes, until the asparagus is quite soft. Use an immersion blender to purée the soup, or if you don’t have one, you can transfer the soup in batches to a regular blender. Once the soup is smooth, stir in the grated pecorino cheese. Cover and keep warm while you make the tips.

In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add the asparagus tips, aleppo pepper, and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tips are bright green and beginning to get crispy, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the tips from the pan, and reserve the oil separately.

To serve, place soup in a bowl, then top with the crisp asparagus tips and a drizzle of the spicy chile oil. Enjoy!

notes:
— Aleppo pepper flakes are similar to common crushed red pepper flakes, but milder and with a slightly different flavor. It is available online or from markets that cater to a middle-eastern clientele. If you cannot find it, you can substitute red pepper flakes, but since they are more spicy, you will need less. Start by using 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes to replace the 1/2 teaspoon of aleppo pepper, and add more to taste.