The drive to Casper wasn’t as long as I expected, and it was certainly more beautiful than I remembered: lots of open, empty country, stark but majestic, and a reminder of the stretch of road between Fort Collins and Denver in days gone by. I had been invited to speak at the Master Gardener’s Conference in Casper that this year focused on food production. Kitchen garden design and creation, and high altitude food gardening using sustainable greenhouse growing were topics covered, and my job was to teach new ideas for what to do with all the food that comes from just a few seeds.
Penn and Cord Parmenter garden at 8200 feet in Westcliffe, Colorado, and teach a class on building and gardening with greenhouses that use no supplemental heating or cooling, a completely sustainable and inexpensive way to grow food in our unpredictable climate. I invited them to come to Fort Collins to teach their class if folks are interested, so let me know via phone or email if you’d like to be included sometime this summer, and I’ll set up a class as part of summer workshops I’ll be holding.
Often, we plant more of a crop than we have ideas for using it, and we tire of it on the dinner plate before we run out of production. Edible pod peas make a fresh green side dish a few times, but soon we crave variety. Lightly steam the peas along with spring asparagus, and toss both into a salad with early greens, snipped garden chives and tarragon, plus a lemony vinaigrette.
I never tire of asparagus, but using it the same way over and over loses its cachet. Add asparagus to a quick soup, to stir-fry in combination with other vegetables, and to omelets with spring onions and feta cheese. Remember that “what grows together, goes together.” Early greens, asparagus, peas, radishes and tiny onions make delicious combinations either cooked or raw, and combining cooked and raw, warm and cold, adds interest to a meal.
Fresh Asparagus Soup
2 lbs. asparagus
1 leek, white and pale green parts only, sliced
2-3 tbsp. unsalted butter
6 cups chicken stock
½ cup crème fraiche (substitute cream)
salt and pepper to taste
Snap the ends from the asparagus spears, and cut into 1 inch lengths. Set the tips aside. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan, and cook the leeks with pinches of salt and pepper until soft. Stir in the asparagus, reserving the tips, and cook 2 minutes. Add 5 cups of chicken stock, and cook 10 minutes, until asparagus is quite tender. Meanwhile, cook the tips in just a little salted boiling water until tender but still bright green, about 3 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Puree the soup in a blender, being careful to pulse the blender to avoid overflow, and return to the saucepan. Stir in the crème fraiche, and add additional stock to create the appropriate consistency. Serve garnished with the asparagus tips, and shaved parmesan cheese.