Monday, March 31, 2014

Roasted Asparagus & Garlic Bisque

I sat at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance, and obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungry from the inhospitable board. – Henry David Thoreau

I bet you didn’t know this, but asparagus is a member of the lily family, some of whose other members are onions, leeks and garlic. If I remember correctly, you can also eat lily bulbs, but digging them from your flower bed would be pretty expensive and decadent. Some are cultivated and eaten widely in Asian countries. But I digress...

Asparagus spears are a great vegetable to eat as part of a heart-healthy diet because they contains no fat, no cholesterol and very little sodium. They provide essential vitamins and minerals without a lot of calories. There’s only about 20 calories per 5.3 oz, so they are very nutrient-rich. 

This recipe takes only a few ingredients.
But not all is rosy in the land of asparagus spears. They do have some – shall we say – interesting side effects.

First up: gas. Did you know it’s common to pass gas 14 times per day? Asparagus ups the ante, because it contains the carbohydrate raffinose that is notoriously difficult to digest. It’s due to a lack of a particular enzyme in our intestinal tract necessary to break it down. So the body has to ferment it to extract the nutrients.

Fun, eh? Raffinose is also contained in cruciferous vegetables (like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, etc) that make one gassy.

Next: odoriferous urine (otherwise known as stinky pee). Some people notice an odour to their urine within 15 minutes of eating asparagus. This odour is caused by a sulfur-containing amino acid that the body produces during the process of breaking down asparagus. 

Luckily not everyone seems to notice the change in urine smell. It’s still unclear why, but some possible reasons point to genetic factors playing a role in a) if it smells at all, or b) if you can smell it or not. Weird fact, yes?

But asparagus tastes so good. And it’s not like you eat it every day, so what’s a fart or two between friends? Oh, and some stinky pee.

This roasted vegetable bisque is unbelievably rich, with the potato giving it a great deal of body, the asparagus adding distinct flavour, as does the roasted garlic and the wine. All in all a delicious, yet nutrient-rich, bowl of fantastic-ness. (Eat it in the dark of you’re worried about the cream. Calories don’t count if you eat in the dark.)

If you prefer, you can substitute the cream with a can of evaporated milk. I often do that, unless the bisque is for a dinner party.

I do hope you try this recipe. I usually leave my bisques on the thick side if serving as a main course, but you can thin it slightly and stretch it into an elegant first course for guests.

Roasted Asparagus & Garlic Bisque
Roasting: 1 hour  | Final prep: 20 min  |  Serves 4-8
1 whole garlic head
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 tbsp olive oil
1-1/2 to 2-1/2 cups chicken stock
1 cup coffee cream (or evaporated milk)
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 tsp salt
freshly cracked black pepper

Timing note: Roast the vegetables at least 15 to 30 minutes before puréeing. This will allow them to cool enough to be handled. They can even be done up to 24 hours before and refrigerated.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Keeping the vegetables separated, place each on their own rectangle of aluminum foil. Liberally sprinkle with olive oil and then season with salt and pepper. 

Seal each foil package tightly, place on a cookie sheet and bake for 1 hour. Let cool before handling.

Reserve 1" of the  tips and set aside.
Cut the tips (1”) from the asparagus and set aside, then coarsely chop the remainder. Squeeze the roasted garlic into a 6 cup blender. Then add the potato, chopped asparagus and any juices and oil that may have collected in the foils while roasting. 

Then add the coffee cream and 1 cup of chicken stock. Purée the mixture until smooth. Pour into a soup pot. Add 1/2 cup chicken stock and the white wine to the blender and pulse for a few seconds to mix any remaining purée into the liquid. Pour into the pot.

Check the thickness of the bisque. If desired, you can add another cup of chicken stock. (I did not.)

Finally, cut the reserved asparagus tips in half again and add to the pot.* Stir the soup together and then taste for seasoning. Adjust the salt and pepper if desired.

Slowly bring the bisque to just under a boil. Ladle into individual bowls and serve.

*Alternatively, for  more dramatic presentation, you can sprinkle the tips on top of the bisque once ladled into bowls.


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