Spring is that brief, pleasant season when fresh asparagus is actually priced reasonably at the grocery store! I love asparagus. I tried to plant a bed when we first moved in but it unfortunately has not thrived. So I content myself with a few seasonal bunches purchased at the store or farmers market.
Now if you cook with fresh asparagus you probably know that the bottom portion of the stem is very fibrous and woody. The “proper” way to trim them is to bend the stalk until it snaps–it will just naturally snap off where the softer part of the stem begins.
Typically you just toss the stems. This last time I had fresh asparagus though I remembered something. When Yankee Bill and I were stationed in Germany, we had some very good German friends. I remember visiting them at “The Wood House”–their family’s hunting lodge style cabin on a mountain in the woods. It was asparagus season and Gabi had steamed some for dinner in one of those tall, narrow asparagus pots. What was memorable was the fact that she saved the water from steaming, mixed it with some milk and spices and served it as soup.
Lightbulb! Why not steam or simmer the stalks from the asparagus and make soup? Now the best thing would have been to steam the stems we were going to eat with only a little bit of water, and then use that water as well–because it would be full of the juice that had come out. . . but I had steamed mine over the pot of pasta I was boiling, so that liquid was lost.
Instead I simmered the woody stems in a small pan of water for while, until the stalks were that gray green that asparagus turns when you cook it too long. I removed the spent stalks and tossed them in the compost bucket, then tasted the liquid.
I’ll admit it–it wasn’t very flavorful. However, I knew it had the nutrients from the stalks in the water. My old cookbooks from the 40’s are always full of advice to use the cooking water from vegetables to use in other applications because of the nutrients left in there.
I spiffed my soup up a bit with some chicken bullion, a can of evaporated milk, a little bit of leftover chicken and a few herbs.
It made a respectable soup that way, and instead of throwing it away (or simply composting it) I was able to “Use it Up”.