Sunday, May 11, 2014

Asparagus-Wild Rice Chowder

Evidently Mother Nature didn't get the memo that it's Mother's Day, which is supposed to be sunny and gorgeous with irises and lilacs in bloom.  (Instead, we have a snow storm.)

They're in bloom, right along with my cherry tree and the ornamental crab out front; they're also full of snow.  I'm terrified my cherries won't survive.

In honor of Mother's Day, son Sean made his famous homemade pizza for his wife Jami, son Rhyan, our neighbor Mary Pat, and me last night.  We ate leftovers for lunch and thought something else might be in order for tonight.  As I had planned on dinner with friends across town -- sadly canceled due to the snow storm -- I had nothing unthawed or ready to go.  I did, however, have a big bunch of asparagus I hadn't yet used.  The larder provided soup basics -- onions, garlic, celery, carrots, quarts of broth... and off I went.

My typical made-forever asparagus soup is brothy, blended, and light, luscious and sometimes lemony. (Recipe HERE.) Snowy tonight called for something a little more hearty--hence the chowder.  A packet of Minnesota wild rice was on the shelf in the pantry and while wild rice is notoriously slow-cooking, it's also substantive, healthy, textural, and adds color not usually found in asparagus soup.  Why not?  I wasn't in a hurry.

If you don't want leftovers, cut the recipe in half.  Otherwise, you're set for this week's lunches, right?  You'll eat two bowls for dinner, I promise.  For a vegan version, see notes.

Above:  Onions, carrots, celery --- mirepoix -- plus herbs and wild rice.

Above:  Add in the tough and fibrous ends of the fat asparagus to flavor the broth. You'll remove and discard them later.

Above:  Add liquids, bring to a boil, reduce a bit, and cook until rice is nearly tender.  Last of all,  throw in the asparagus pieces and diced potatoes.  Garnish with asparagus tips and sliced toasted almonds.

Try this: 

asparagus-wild rice chowder  
serves 8

This is not a thick restaurant-variety chowder, but rather a lighter, more brothy version.  
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds (for garnish)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 1/2 cup wild rice, flooded and rinsed several times
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper
  • Pinch crushed red pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • Small handful finely chopped parsley -- leaves and stems
  • 1 1/2 pounds thick asparagus--trim bottom third, chop all but tips into 1/2-inch pieces; reserve tip
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 cups vegetable (or chicken) stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 small red potatoes, unpeeled, small dice
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • Hot sauce (I like Tabasco)
In a small, dry skillet, toast the almond slices over low heat for 5 minutes or so.  Let cool and pour into a small bowl.  Set aside.  

In  a 6-quart heavy pot over medium flame, heat oil and butter; add onions, celery, carrots, wild rice, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, thyme, parsley, and the asparagus ends (the trimmed bottom third.)  Cover and let cook until vegetables are tender, 10 - 15 minutes.  Stir occasionally.

Add white wine and garlic; stir well and cook 3 minutes or so until wine cooks down.  Pour in stock and water; stir.  Raise heat to high and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a gentle boil.  Cook 40 minutes or until wild rice is almost tender.  With a slotted spot, remove the asparagus ends and discard.  Add potatoes and the 1/2-inch pieces of asparagus.  Lower heat to a simmer and cook just 6-8 minutes or until potatoes and asparagus pieces are tender.  Turn heat to low so that soup is not simmering and add the cream and milk; season with 2 or 3 shakes of hot sauce and heat through; do not boil. Taste and adjust seasonings.

In the meantime, cook the asparagus tips--season them with a pinch of salt and pepper -- in a separate skillet or pot in 1/4 cup water for 2 minutes.  Drain and rinse with cold water.  Set aside in a small bowl to use for garnish. 

Serve soup hot garnished with toasted almond slices and tender asparagus tips.

COOK'S NOTES:  For a vegan version, use 2 tablespoons of olive oil in place of the butter and olive oil at the start; use only vegetable stock. Sub either coconut milk or almond milk for the dairy cream and milk  -- or skip milk all together.

Have fun cooking and taking care of yourself,

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