Asparagus soup graces friendly lunch


A light midday meal is often far easier to execute than a dinner party. I realized this as I began to plan a luncheon for a good friend.

As a first course, I'm going to serve a warm vegetable salad. The main course will be a rich pureed asparagus soup, garnished with dollops of cream fraiche and chopped chives and served with crusty baguettes. Fresh strawberries tossed with sugar and offered with good cookies will end the meal.

The soup is uncomplicated to prepare. Some creme fraiche is stirred into it at the last minute.

It is the creme fraiche, a thick fermented cream used throughout France, that gives this soup its unique flavor.

Asparagus Soup with Creme Fraiche and Chives

Serves 6

1 cup whipping cream

1/3 cup sour cream (see note)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts only (about 2 large leeks)

2 to 2 1/4 pounds medium asparagus, tough ends broken off and discarded, and spears cut into 1-inch pieces

5 cups chicken stock

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

2 tablespoons chopped chives

To prepare creme fraiche, place whipping cream in small mixing bowl and whisk in sour cream. Cover and let stand in warm part of kitchen until thickened, 5 to 6 hours or overnight. Refrigerate, covered, when thickened. (Creme fraiche will keep 1 week in refrigerator.)

Heat butter in large, heavy, deep-sided nonreactive pot set over medium heat. When melted and hot, add leeks and saute, stirring, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add chopped asparagus and stir and cook 1 minute more. Add stock and salt. Bring mixture to simmer, then reduce heat and cook at simmer until vegetables are very tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove from heat and puree mixture in small batches in food processor, blender or food mill. Return mixture to pan in which cooked. Stir in 3/4 cup creme fraiche. Taste and season with more salt if needed.

If serving immediately, reheat soup a few minutes if necessary. (Soup can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat, stirring, over medium heat.)

To serve, ladle soup into 6 shallow soup bowls. Garnish each with dollop (about 1 teaspoonful) of additional creme fraiche. (You will have some creme fraiche left over, which can be saved for another use.) Sprinkle each serving with chives.

This soup can also be served cold. You will probably need to add more salt and thin it slightly with a little milk.

Note: I generally prefer to use sour cream in place of buttermilk when preparing creme fraiche, because I like the way it thickens whipping cream. If you want to use buttermilk, use 2 tablespoons for every cup of cream and let stand at room temperature same amount of time.

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