Friday, April 7, 2017


Over the years, I have collected dozens of soup recipes from every region of Spain. Many are simple and rustic peasant meals, often concocted with little more than bread, water, garlic, salt and olive oil, a paltry few ingredients to feed a family. But, add some unusual flavoring, some bits of ham, a few eggs, crushed nuts, foraged greens or vegetables from a garden plot and they become inspired.

Asparagus soup is served with cheesy toasts.

This asparagus soup is a good example of that. It is originally made with skinny, somewhat bitter, wild asparagus, foraged in the springtime. Here I’ve used fat stalks of cultivated asparagus and the “refinement” of good chicken stock to give the soup more substance.

A La Mancha version might have saffron (or, yellow coloring, if you're a peasant who is saving all the precious saffron to sell) and, interestingly, caraway seeds, which complement asparagus very nicely. The toasted bread goes on top of the soup, which might have eggs poached in it.

In Andalusia, the soup starts with a sofrito of onion, green peppers and tomatoes with pimentón (paprika) instead of saffron. The soup with asparagus is ladled on top of thick slices of stale bread. In fact, in the area where I live, it’s called sopa porcima, meaning “por encima,” “on top”.

Today I'm making the La Mancha version. There are several ways to finish this soup. 1. Ladle the soup into individual oven-safe earthenware bowls; place the toasted baguette on top and break an egg into each bowl. Bake until egg is set. 2. Poach one egg per person in the simmering soup. Ladle out egg and soup to serve. 3. Beat one or two eggs. Beat some of the hot soup into the eggs, then stir them into the soup. Do not boil.

Asparagus soup with eggs and toast is baked in individual cazuelas. as

Or, poach the eggs right in the soup, then ladle them into individual bowls.

A third way to finish the soup--beat eggs into the hot soup to slightly thicken it.

Manchegan Soup with Asparagus
Sopa Manchega con Espárragos

Use homemade or canned chicken stock for this soup or, if you happen to have some, the caldo from a cocido pot, made with ham bone, chicken and beef. Or, make a vegetarian version of this soup by changing the chicken stock for water or vegetable stock and omitting the optional ham bits.

The rounds of toasted baguette in the soup soak up the broth and turn into pillowy “dumplings.” If you prefer crisp toasts, serve them separately.

Toasts with cheese--add to the soup or serve on the side.

Should you have esparragos trigueros, wild asparagus, chop it and blanch in boiling salted water for 5 minutes. This eliminates possible bitterness.

Serves 4.

1 ½ pounds green asparagus
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
¼ cup chopped ham (optional)
2 cloves garlic, sliced crosswise
Pinch of saffron threads
6 cups homemade or canned chicken stock
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon caraway seeds, lightly toasted and coarsely crushed
½ cup grated Manchego cheese
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
½ tablespoon chopped chives
8 1-inch thick slices of day-old baguette

Break off and discard butt ends of asparagus. Cut off tips and set aside. Chop stalks into ¼ -inch pieces and reserve. Blanch the tips in boiling, salted water for 1 minute. Refresh under cold water, drain, and reserve them.

Heat ¼ cup of oil in a soup pot or deep cazuela on medium heat. Sauté the onion until it begins to brown, about 8 minutes. Add the ham, if using, sliced garlic and chopped asparagus. Sauté 5 minutes more. Push the asparagus to one side and add the saffron threads to the pan. Toast it 1 minute.

Add the chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then simmer the soup, covered, until asparagus is very tender, about 15 minutes. Add the crushed caraway seeds.

Preheat broiler.

In a bowl combine the cheese, parsley and chives. Set aside.

Toast baguette slices under broiler, then add cheese.
Place the baguette slices on a rack and brush on both sides with 2 tablespoons of oil. Place under the broiler. Turn to brown both sides, about 1 minute per side. Remove.

Spoon cheese on top of each slice and return to the broiler until cheese is melted, 30-60 seconds.

If finishing soup in the oven, preheat oven to 450ºF. Ladle soup into 4 cazuelas. Place 2 cheese-toasts in each. Break an egg into each cazuela and scatter a few asparagus tips on top. Bake the cazuelas until egg white is set, but yolk still liquid, 5 to 8 minutes. Carefully remove the hot cazuelas and serve.

If poaching eggs in the soup, bring the soup to a simmer. Using one egg per person, break them, one by one, into a saucer or cup and carefully slip them into the soup. Cover the pot and simmer until whites are set but yolks still runny, about  3 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove eggs to soup bowls. Ladle over soup and add the toasts. Add a few asparagus tips to each bowl.

To thicken soup with beaten egg: beat 1 or 2 eggs in a bowl. Beat in some of the hot soup, then whisk the egg into the soup pot. Do not boil. Serve the soup in bowls with the toasts on top and garnished with reserved asparagus tips.

Poach eggs right in the soup. Ladle them out onto the cheese-toasts.

More asparagus recipes:

Other peasant soups:

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