Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Energizing Green Spring Broth

I decided to use up my asparagus ends from Sunday's salad. I despise throwing food away, and try to utilize as much as I can from everything I buy, especially since the cost of food is rising considerably. I always save the tough, woody ends of my asparagus stalks, you know, the ones you snap off before cooking the delicious stalks and tips. Woody as they may be, they still harbor some great asparagus flavor.
Another so called vegetable scrap that I save is the long, light green, hollow stalks from fennel bulbs. I look at fennel as two vegetables, plus an herb (herb coming from the beautiful, feathery green fronds that grow from the stalks). These stalks can be stringy, but are very potent in fennel flavor, and I find it a shame that most fennel sold in grocery stores comes with its tops hacked off at the bulb. Murderous if you ask me. If you make any kind of stock, especially vegetable stock, these tops can be a great addition, just like leek tops, celery root tops, and spring onion tops.

So, now I have a bag filled with two texturally unappealing vegetables that have tremendous flavor. What to do? Soup is the first thing to come to mind, but with the stringiness of both vegetables, a pureed soup is not going to work well. But a pureed soup strained to make a flavorful broth would. So, that is what I did, and the recipe is posted below. The broth is energizing, clean, and light. I added some sauteed minced fennel bulb and extra asparagus tips to enrich the broth a little as a garnish, along with a quick mint oil for aroma and richness, and a sprinkling of rosemary flowers for a sudden, once-in-awhile burst of flavor. The broth is not substantial enough to be a meal on its own, but makes a great first course before a light dinner. I would probably serve four people with this broth, in 1 cup portions. You will need some special equipment for this broth, which, if you cook a lot, you might already have. You will need a very good blender (a vita-mix is the best), and a fine mesh strainer. After you strain the broth and see the contents that are left over, you will immediately understand why it has to be strained. The mint oil taste delicious, but is not necessary. A drizzling of good, cold pressed extra virgin olive oil would be just as tasty. I used the enchanting little purple rosemary flowers for garnish just because I had some in the garden. Here is the recipe.

Energizing Green Spring Broth

-1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil**
-1 cup chopped spring onions (about 4 small bulbs) or scallions
-1 clove garlic, sliced
-2 cups chopped fennel stalks
-3 cups chopped asparagus ends
-1 quart vegetable stock or water (I used water)
-salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

For the Garnish:
-1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil**
-3/4 cup small diced fennel bulb
-15 asparagus tips, about 1-2 inches long

Heat the olive oil in a 4 quart soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add in the chopped spring onions and sliced garlic. Stir often, letting the vegetables sweat, soften, and release their water, about 3-4 minutes. Adjust the heat if needed so that the vegetables do not brown or burn. Add in the chopped fennel stalks, a pinch a salt, and stir. Again, let this sweat for about 3 more minutes, stirring often. Add in the asparagus, another good pinch of salt, white pepper, and the stock or water. Bring to a simmer, and cook until the asparagus and fennel are tender, about 15 minutes. Pour the soup into a blender, and puree on high until very smooth, or as smooth as possible. Do this in batches if necessary, I do not recommend filling a blender up to the very top with hot liquid, you are almost guaranteed to burn yourself. Strain each batch through a fine mesh strainer, pushing on the solids to extract as much broth as possible with the back of a large ladle. Return the broth to the clean pot and re-heat and season as necessary. Ladle into warm bowls and garnish as desired.
For the garnish, heat the olive oil in a small saute pan over medium heat. When warm, add in the diced fennel, and sweat until it begins to soften, about 4 minutes. Stir often and adjust the heat as necessary to avoid browning, this should be gentle cooking. Add in the asparagus tips and about 1/4 cup of water. Bring to a simmer and slightly cover to let the asparagus steam to a crisp tender. Garnish each bowl of broth with a spoonful of asparagus tips and diced fennel, and rosemary flowers if available, or even some chopped fresh mint.

Mint Oil
-1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil**
-1/4 cup fresh mint leaves

Heat the olive oil and mint leaves in a small pan over low heat. Let the oil become quite warm to soften the mint leaves. Leave on gentle heat for about 4 minutes, turn off the heat, and let infuse for at least 30 minutes before straining. Drizzle into the above broth to garnish. Save any left overs in a small jar in the refrigerator.

**I almost always cook with an extra virgin olive oil because it has a slightly high smoking point and is heart healthy, but I do not cook with the best one I can find. I usually keep two kinds of extra virgin olive oil on hand; a cold-pressed, organic one that I use to season, say for salads or dips, or for anything where the flavor of the oil is important. For cooking, I buy a less expensive extra virgin olive oil that is not as high quality.

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