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.
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.
Make broth. 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: 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.