Mixed Greens Blog

Mixed Greens Blog
Living Sustainably in the Pacific Northwest

29
May
2009

Reclaiming Asparagus Butts

Tender edible asparagus tips are one thing, the tougher butt ends another. More flotsam and jetsam, stuff in the kitchen that we know we should, but don’t really want to mess with. Discounted food sits on the culinary conscience like an unread book on the shelf.

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Maybe the economic state of affairs fosters a new level of conscientiousness, maybe guilt, whatever. I started saving and using asparagus ends this spring,  most often making clear broth that’s an easy and savory base for risotto or polenta.

Surprising how much asparagus a person can either throw away or . . . save by slipping the end pieces into a plastic bag and refrigerating for a few more days. Two or three batches of asparagus later and there are five or six cups worth.

Enough for a light soup. I thought about peeling each fibrous little piece, but nah. It’s something I might do once, but too fussy for someone who doesn’t have a live-in cook. Second thought maybe I do have a live-in cook. In order to actually make use of kitchen flotsam and jetsam one of the guiding principles might be that it must be relatively simple or we won’t bother. Sad state of affairs since it involves throwing away good food.

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Make broth. asparagas-broth-soup Place a pile of salvaged asparagus in a large pan, cover with water plus a couple of inches, add a spring onion and garlic greens – or whatever bits of onion or garlic you have on hand – salt and pepper. Not much is required. I used 6 cups asparagus and 6 of water, a 1:1 ratio. Bring to a simmer, lid on and cook gently for 45 minutes. Strain and at the very least there’s a knockout broth for making risotto, a pot of rice or polenta, a base for chopped vegetables in a spring soup.

If you want asparagus soup:asparagas-broth-soup-2 Let me be clear about this soup. Essence of khaki isn’t your ideal food color, and yes I know what it looks like but it’s not.  Drab looking maybe, but  it dresses up beautifully with a few pieces of asparagus and a sprig of mint. It’s a broth lightly embellished with herbs and delicious hot or cold – if there’s elegance in simplicity this might be it, the essence of spring in a delectable sip.

Reserve the strained broth and put the cooked asparagus ends into a food processor along with a little plain water. Process until very smooth. I was tempted to put the puree back into the stock. I could have but didn’t – maybe next time, along with some cream, for a heartier version. Strain the pulp through a wire mesh sieve, recovering some more of the flavorful broth.  Add these additional drippings to the pan of broth, discard the pulp, and reheat it all slowly along with a few sorrel leaves and a sprig of mint – ten or fifteen minutes, just enough for flavors to meld and a few extra pieces of asparagus to cook slightly.

There you go, the guilt of unused asparagus, gone.

Not so fast. Dang, I’ve opened a Pandora’s box – do I start saving all vegetable discards for broth?  Probably. I may find it’s a pleasant state of culinary being, channeling my grandmother who survived two world wars, a global flu epidemic and the Depression. Once again she shows up just when I need her.


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14 Responses »

  1. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I realized that people don’t eat the whole asparagus…. I just chomped my way right through the thing, never minding about the fiberous portion at the end. Once someone mentioned it, I remember being utterly confused – asparagus are so precious and limited in season, why waste half of them? Since then, I still eat through the whole thing steamed/raw, but have also been experimenting with soups. One of my favs is combining the blended asparagus bits with fresh spring peas, cucumbers, and a bit of early basil. Mmmmmm.

  2. Your asparagus/pea/cucumber/basil soup sounds amazing. Thank you for that suggestion, and for a reminder that the fibrous ends are meant to be consumed. Butt of course.

  3. Remember Jacque Pepin in his classic approach always froze veg trimmings for future stock.

  4. How funny… I’ve recently been overcome with the same sense of guilt about my asparagus butts. Thanks for echoing my conscience. Another idea: Slice some ends paper thin, toss with thinly sliced radish and quick pickle for an hour with and seasoned rice vinegar and fresh herbs. Makes a nice side dish.

  5. Yes, I remember Jacque, and Julia probably did the same with her veg trimmings. I’m on that bus now too.
    Becky, the radishes and asparagus sound so good I want to make it right now, take its picture and eat it. I’ve wondered about thin slicing, but didn’t go anywhere with it. Thanks.

  6. Sally: Please make it! I love your photos so much.

  7. Can you freeze the broth or is it better to freeze the butt ends and then make broth when ready? If so, do I have to blanche them before freezing?

  8. Sayre, I’ve only made the broth and used it right away, though I’m sure it would freeze well. Freezing the asparagus ends should be fine. The blanching, not sure if it’s necessary, but sounds like a good idea to me.

    You’ve made me think about new possibilities. Thank you. I have a bunch of ends waiting to be used as we speak – I’m planning to make a soup with them, something different. If it’s any good, I’ll let you know.

  9. To answer your rhetorical question at the end, Yes. I have been saving all of my vegetable bits and ends from carrot tops to onion skin and garlic husks to lemon peels to herb stems. I keep them in a gallon freezer bag and when it gets full I make stock. I use fish heads and meat bones for the same purpose. I haven’t had to buy canned or otherwise packaged vegetable or meat/seafood stock for years. It’s so simple. And, if you make a lot of homemade soup and stews like I do, you can save a lot of cash.

  10. Liza, you must be cooking some crazy good food with these ‘leftovers’. Thanks so much for your testimony.

  11. Liza, you’re my kinda’ gal! I started making my own stock awhile back and believe me….I WILL NOT TURN BACK. My bits, pieces and trimmings from veggies adds up very quickly and WOW what a super great stock they make in no time at all. The same applies to chicken stock. I like necks and backs as the meat is so sweet, cheap and not really good for much else. Sorry Swanson….it just kinda’ happened and I’m so glad. Thanks to Sara Moulton and Ina Garten for getting me on the right path. Save money, be green, go fresh and preservative/chemical free……make it yourself. Good Luck To All!

  12. Teresa, yes! Once you’ve made a few pots of stock, chicken or otherwise, it isn’t a big deal. It bubbles away while you do whatever and it’s superior to ANYTHING you get in the store.

  13. I should however, caution, I guess that some things I do choose to package separately from the general all purpose freezer bag.
    Like in that bag, I put in the onion skins, the garlic, the carrot tops, celery leaves and ends, etc…And I keep You know, basic stuff. And in another ‘all purpose’ bag I’ll keep meat bones (but no fish!).

    But, I’ll keep, but separate, some things for special purpose additions to stock. Stuff that doesn’t always go with your standard standby all purpose stock…like fish parts, lemon, asparagus ends, etc.
    And some more pungent of veggies (broccoli or cabbage for example), I generally don’t save at all because they can be a bit overpowering in a broth. Unless, however, that is something you are going for.
    Same discretion when it comes to things like beets…veggies that can discolor a soup, if that is undesirable.

    I once made a stock that had chicken and fish parts, lemon and cabbage bits, and asparagus ends and it was God AWFUL…I had to dump the whole thing.
    But, live and learn.

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