Keeping Asparagus at the Peak of Freshness

Cooking with Jonathan Bardzik, the Eastern Market Chef

Asparagus soup with mushroom spaetzle, making use of some of the season's favorite flavors. Photo: Sam Armocido

It's spring, finally, and for real. Fresh sweet asparagus, woodsy, wild fiddleheads and the first sugary-sweet strawberries have appeared. Eastern Market chef Jonathan Bardzik will be serving new recipes for these spring delights each week until they are gone. Join him on Saturday mornings from 10-1 outside the Market.

"The sugars in asparagus fade as quickly as those in sweet corn," Jonathan tells us. To keep it fresh, bring it right home, cut the base of each stalk at a sharp angle, and store it upright in a glass or vase of water, just like fresh-cut flowers. Then put it in the fridge right away. It will last a good week like this. Longer, if you're buying it really fresh from the Market.

What to do with all that asparagus? Try this fresh, cream-free soup with rich mushroom noodles.

Asparagus Soup

2 bunches asparagus, about 2 pounds
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
2 tbs chopped parsley, reserve stems
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tbs butter
2 medium red potatoes, diced
2 leeks, white and light green parts thinly sliced
2 tbs butter
Sherry vinegar

Serves 6-8
Directions:
Snap tough ends from asparagus. Add ends to a 4 qt saucepan with stock, thyme, bay and parsley stems. Simmer for 20 minutes.
Melt butter in a soup pot over medium-low heat. Simmer potatoes and leeks in butter. Add a little water as needed. Cook until potatoes are soft.
Strain stock into soup pot and cook for five minutes. Cut remaining asparagus into 2” pieces and add to stock. Remove 10-12 tips after 3 minutes.
When asparagus is just tender, pass soup through a food mill or processor. Stir through parsley.
Season to taste with salt, pepper, butter and vinegar. Garnish with asparagus tips.

Mushroom Spaetzle

2 tbs olive oil
2 cups chopped Crimini mushrooms
1/4 cup Madeira wine
1 tbs chopped parsley
1.5 cups flour
3/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup whole milk

Serves 6-8

Directions:
Warm oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Add mushrooms and cook until softened and golden on edges. Add wine to pan and scrape up any brown bits. Cook until liquid has evaporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper
Chop mushrooms and parsley together until minced.
Bring a large pot of water to a simmer.
Meanwhile, whisk together flour and salt. Add mushrooms and whisk to combine.
In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs and milk. Add to dry ingredients and whisk until it forms into a smooth dough.
Press dough through a colander over simmering water. Cook for 2-3 minutes and drain.
Serve with butter or over soup.