The Bounty of Spring – Asparagus “The Vegetable of Kings and the King of Vegetables”

Apr 25, 2013

By Executive Chef John Zehnder, CEC, ACE, AAC, HGT

As an “old school” chef, I believe that food should be eaten in-season. With modern technologies, we now have the ability to produce and ship tomatoes, watermelons, blueberries, strawberries and vegetables like asparagus all year long – some of these products are pretty good and others are horrible. For example, a real tomato should not bounce when dropped on the floor!

Spring is a great time of the year for fresh locally grown fruits and vegetables. The most prized of all is the noble asparagus. Over 3,000 years ago, the Egyptians cultivated asparagus. Romans from Pliny to Julius Caesar to Augustus prized asparagus. Emperor Augustus loved asparagus so much that he had ice caves built high in the Alps where Roman soldiers in speedy chariots would transport freshly picked asparagus and freeze it for later use.

Asparagus also has medicinal properties. Since ancient times, asparagus was eaten in China, Syria and Spain for its qualities as a diuretic and ability to relieve gout since there are components that break down the uric acid in the body.

Here in Michigan we’re blessed! We are one of the top U.S. producers of fresh asparagus, the majority of which grown in the southwest corner of the state. Michigan even has an annual asparagus festival in the City of Hart, complete with a parade and an asparagus queen. Most asparagus soup recipes call for pureeing the asparagus. I like this recipe because the chopped asparagus has more texture and flavor.

Creamy Asparagus Chowder:
Yields 2 1/2 quarts
2 Medium onions – chopped
1/4 cup butter
2 Cloves garlic – minced
1/2 cup All-Purpose Flour
1 Large potato – peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
4 cups milk
4 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
4 cups chopped asparagus – cooked and drained
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 Cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1. Butter saute onions in a large Dutch oven until tender.
2. Add garlic and saute an extra minute
3. Stir in flour and whisk until all lumps are gone.
4. Add the potatoes, milk, broth and herbs – cook over low heat until the potatoes are tender and soup thickens, about 25-30 minutes.
5. Add cooked asparagus, return to heat for 3 to 4 minutes.
6. Taste – add salt/pepper to taste and whisk in Parmesan cheese.


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