The Dry Run – Asparagus Soup with Mushroom Custard

After deciding that I wanted to serve a soup course, I went through a number of my cookbooks with the general theme of “Spring” in mind. Whatever recipe I ended up with, I wanted it to be a celebration of spring and something light to usher in the evening. I gravitated towards green soups, so peas and spinach and a number of other vegetable soups were considered. In the end, I decided on this recipe for asparagus soup that appears in Tom Colicchio’s book Think Like a Chef.

The prospect of combining two hallmarks of spring, asparagus and mushrooms, appealed to me, and the soup is very straightforward, which would allow me the time to get on with preparing the rest of the meal. The custard seemed to be a nice touch, as it’s something that you don’t see in home cooking too often, but it seemed easy enough to do.

When we went shopping for ingredients, I noticed that 1) I don’t have access to fresh morels, and 2) dried morels are super expensive (around $8.99 for two ounces). I settled on shittake mushrooms instead, which were available fresh – if you were to make this dish, you could probably substitute any mix of mushrooms that are available to you and discover new combinations fairly easily. Also, Colicchio’s original recipe calls for ramps, which are wild onions, and which also weren’t available, so I substituted scallions instead. That’s the great thing about soup – you can always play around with the ingredients quite a bit and still come out looking good.

I won’t list the straight recipe here, since you can find it in the cookbook (and also you can just Google it), but you take 2.5 pounds (or so) of asparagus, chop them in half, and simmer the chopped stems in 2.25 C chicken stock, and reserve the chopped upper halves (the part with the pointy bits). As the stock simmers, gathering asparagus flavor from the stems, you saute the chopped upper halves with some shallot, salt, pepper, and ramps or scallions. Strain the stock, throw away the stems, and pour the stock into your sauteed mix, simmering for five minutes more. Dump the whole thing into a blender and puree. Soup’s done, unless you’re a stickler for running it through a sieve.

As for the custard, set aside about 45 minutes for it. Chop up the mushrooms (1/4 pound), and saute them (along with some scallion or ramps) in a little bit of oil for about five minutes. Throw in a cup of heavy cream, bring to a simmer, turn off the heat, and let that mushroomy goodness steep throughout the cream for ten minutes, fifteen minutes, or whenever you get around to it again. Strain the mix (keep the mushrooms, keep the cream), let the cream cool a little, and then whisk in one egg + one yolk. Divide among eight three ounce ramekins (buttered or spritzed with Pam), stir a little of your mushroom mush into each, and bake in a water bath at 325 degrees for 25 minutes. When they are done, take them out and let them cool on the counter a bit.

When you are ready to assemble, run a knife around the edge of each custard and invert into your serving bowl. If your butter/Pam karma is good, they should just plop out. If not, you may be screwed.

Ladle a little bit of the hot soup around the custard, tilting the bowl to fill in any spaces, and serve. Well, taste for salt first (it will probably need some), and then serve.