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Asparagus Soup with Thyme-Rosemary Croutons

From April to June, asparagus season arrives for us Northeasterners. Why just steam them when you can make soup out of 'em? In this recipe, the sauteed onion and shallot add a little sweetness to the asparagus' vegetal flavor.

2 pounds asparagus
1/2 cup Spanish onion, chopped finely
1 shallot, chopped finely
4 oz. heavy cream
3 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 tbsp unsalted butter
Salt and pepper
1 tsp fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Olive oil for sauteing

Rinse asparagus. Chop off and discard the bottom inch. Chop the rest in 1/4" slices, as if you were chopping green onions. In a medium-hot saute pan, saute onions and shallot in olive oil until soft. Add butter and chopped asparagus and cover for one minute. Add stock and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until asparagus is very soft.

Let soup mixture cool for a few minutes and puree in a blender. Add salt to taste. Return to saute pan on medium heat. Mix in heavy cream and lemon juice and stir for two minutes. Serve with thyme-rosemary croutons (see below) and a twist or two of freshly cracked black pepper. Serves 2.

Thyme-Rosemary Croutons

Not just for soups, these croutons can be used for topping a farmer's market salad too. Or just plain snacking. Note: stale bread makes crappy croutons. Besides, stale bread is hard to cut without bursting into sawdust (better wear goggles!). You must use fresh bread.

Sourdough bread (fresh, not stale!), cubed, about 2 cups
Olive oil
Freshly cracked black pepper
1 tbsp thyme, chopped finely
1 tbsp rosemary, chopped finely

Equipment needed: big Ziploc bag, flat broiling pan, tongs

Preheat broiler as high as it goes. Place cubed bread into Ziploc bag, taking care not to overstuff the bag. Leave room for movement inside. Add a few pinches of salt, about 6 twists of freshly cracked black pepper, the thyme and rosemary. Pour about 1 tbsp of olive oil into the part of the bag that is not touching any bread cubes (you didn't fill up the bag all the way, right?). Seal it. Shake, turn, and massage the bag so the oil and seasonings cover all the cubes. Don't be afraid to poke the bag to get the seasonings out of the corners of the bag and onto the croutons.

Dump croutons in a single layer onto aluminum foil-covered broiling pan. Broil until brown. With tongs, turn croutons. Broil the other side. Be sure to keep an eye on them, because they can go from brown to black in less than a minute.

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©2011 Darrin DuFord