Salads aren't the only showcase for spring's bounty of sweet, young vegetables. Another classic way to celebrate first-of-the-season delicacies, from pencil-slim asparagus to petits pois and baby zucchini, is to highlight them in a soup or stew.
The youngest, most tender members of the vegetable kingdom are fragile, quickly turning limp when carelessly handled or stored. And because they cook much more quickly than their mature counterparts, leaving these sweet, young things even a minute too long over heat can destroy their nutrients and their firm texture and fresh color. Light seasonings -- a sprinkling of fresh herbs or some salt and pepper -- enhance their natural sweetness without overpowering their subtle flavor. Finally, they deserve to be presented with flourish, on their own, as a separate course.
Spring Green Soup
4 green onions
1/2 pound mushrooms
1 pound thin asparagus (about 24 spears), 1/4 pound sugar snap peas or 3/4 pound fresh peas
2 tablespoons butter
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon salt , 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 pound prepared puff pastry, defrosted (homemade or purchased) (see note)
1 tablespoon water
Clean leeks thoroughly; slice crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick pieces. Trim green onions; slice diagonally into 1-inch pieces. Wash mushrooms, trim stems; slice into strips about 1/4 inch wide. Wash asparagus, snap off dry, tough ends, and slice on diagonal into 1-inch pieces. Remove stems from snap peas.
Heat butter in a 3-quart saucepan. Add leeks and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender (about 8 minutes). Add mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in onions and cook 1 minute. Add stock, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. Add asparagus and peas. Turn off heat.
Pour into 2-quart, oven-proof, deep souffle or serving dish. Cool slightly, then refrigerate until well chilled.
Cut puff pastry into a circle 2 inches larger than dish. Place pastry over top of dish and press onto sides, pressing edges of puff pastry to adhere pastry to dish. Refrigerate until 45 minutes before serving time.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix egg and water in small bowl and brush on puff pastry. Bake until puff pastry is golden brown and crisp (about 40 minutes). Serve at once; cut puff pastry open at the table. Ladle soup into individual bowls; top each serving with a piece of pastry.
Note: To prepare the soup without the pastry lid, cook the asparagus and peas for 3 minutes after adding to stock mixture. Omit the chilling step. Then ladle the soup into bowls and serve at once.