Happy hour: chilled asparagus soup and Mt. Tam cheese

Whenever my mom comes to visit, we inevitably have a home-cooked happy hour–code for “Mom has worn me out from shopping all day, so I will distract her with snacks and wine until I have the energy to make dinner.”  This works quite well, and sometimes gets me out of cooking dinner altogether.

This is the ultimate make-ahead “happy hour” selection – a chilled asparagus soup and a hunk of the creamiest and most delicious cheese ever to make its way into my life.  The soup, which comes from Bon Appetit, tastes and feels like it was made with cream, but it’s only asparagus, onions, broth, and spinach–so it’s healthy, too.  (I garnished with a little sour cream, smoked salmon, and dill – three things Mom and I will never turn down.)   This was a huge time-saver–it looks fancy, but I made it a day ahead.  When the time came, it took me all of five minutes to put together and serve.  The soup has enough zest to stand up to a red wine, but I think a tart white or a dry sparkling wine would complement it even better.  Especially with warm spring weather (that existed in San Francisco for all of a week).

The cheese is Mt. Tam, from Cowgirl Creamery, a Bay Area institution.  If you like cheese (and boy, Mom and I do) I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but if you haven’t tried it, you’re in for a treat–it’s semi-soft, with an edible rind and soft, velvety innards.  The almost-herbal flavor is so delicate that I prefer to eat it without bread or crackers.  Why complicate a good thing?

Chilled Asparagus Soup

Adapted from Bon Appetit

 I changed the proportions here – less onion and asparagus – added some dill, and didn’t strain the soup.  It turned out beautifully.  Make sure you use low-sodium chicken (or vegetable) broth.

Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 pounds asparagus, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups low-salt chicken broth
  • 8 ounces fresh spinach
  • 2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
  • Smoked salmon, sour cream, and dill springs for garnish

Preparation

Heat 4 tbsp. oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, 8–10 minutes. Add ½-inch asparagus pieces and season with salt and pepper. Cook until asparagus is bright green and tender, 4–5 minutes. Add broth, increase heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until asparagus is tender, 8–10 minutes. Add spinach and cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted, about 2 minutes.  Add dill and remove from heat.  Let mixture cool slightly.

Working in batches, purée soup in a blender until very smooth. Stir remaining 2 tbsp. oil into soup; season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill until cold.

To serve, ladle into bowls or ramekins.  Float a scant tablespoon of sour cream in the middle, then place a small slice of smoked salmon on top of the cream, and finish with a dill sprig.

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4 responses to “Happy hour: chilled asparagus soup and Mt. Tam cheese

    • I prefer it, because it makes it very hard to over-salt. If there’s a possibility of the liquid reducing at all, the salty flavor will concentrate and can become overwhelming. It’s kind of like using unsalted butter – you can control the seasoning better.

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