Damn it’s cold in in Paris atm. Not like white-walker-gonna-fuck-you cold, but it’s the middle of spring and it’s barely above 10 degrees. The thing about cooking seasonally is that the seasons have a tendency to give you a couple of glorious soft days before they suddenly wind up and kick you in the lady parts. Makes it hard to cook all the stuff that feels like summer when all you want to do is curl up under a doona with a whiskey and watch all five seasons of breaking bad marathon-style.
Yep so it’s spring in Paris but feels like winter. By dumb luck, though, we landed in the middle of the relatively short white asparagus season. And while our immediate reaction was to revisit asparagus with lardo, the crap weather and the doona made a hot bowl of soup sound a whole lot more inviting.
Oh, and a tip on preparation – white asparagus needs peeling. Thorough peeling, if you don’t want to end up with a mouth full of dental floss.
for the soup
500g white asparagus
1 medium all-rounder potato, like sebago
½ brown onion
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
3 stalks flat leaf parsley, leaves and stems
1 sprig thyme
6 slices of smoked flat pancetta or speck
leftover roast chicken bones (optional)
some salty hard cheese (like parmesan or aged comté), finely grated
fresh cream (for drizzling)
for the thyme oil
1 small bunch thyme
250ml extra virgin olive oil
To make the thyme oil, blanch a handful of thyme in boiling water for one minute. Drain and plunge into iced water to stop the cooking process. Whisk the thyme with some extra virgin olive oil and leave to steep for 30 minutes before straining through a fine sieve.
Remove the rind from the pancetta and gently fry in a deep heavy-based pot. When it has released some fat, add the chopped carrot, celery and onion to the pan and fry for a few minutes. If you have leftover roast chicken bones (especially wings), chuck them in now. Thoroughly peel the asparagus and add just the fibrous skins to the pot with a sprig of thyme and the parsley stalks. Cover the whole thing with water and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain to remove all the chunky bits.
Return the stock to the heat and bring to a simmer. Season carefully but well – a flavourful stock is everything. Chop the potatoes into small pieces and add to the stock. After about 10 minutes, do the same for the asparagus. When the potatoes and asparagus are soft through, remove from heat and blend until smooth.
When you are ready to serve, fry the slices of pancetta on a medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towel before placing in the soup. Drizzle some fresh cream and the thyme oil over the top. Finish with a few extra thyme leaves and the finely grated cheese.