My mom taught me some valuable lessons while growing in the summer heat of southwest Florida. One, to truly dial down your core temperature, take a cool shower. She keeps a hotplate in the shed to cook on hot afternoons to avoid heating up the house and gardens only in the cooler morning hours. A couple of years ago while remodeling our house, I added my own coda. In the morning, prep chilled soup for lunch later in the day.
Chilled soup carries a stamp of posh. “Oh James, prepare the vichyssoise and the champagne for dinner, will you?” The first time that I can recall having chilled soup was as a impressionable 20-year-old college student at the home of a wealthy older man that I was interviewing for a story in the Chicago Sun-Times. His private chef served a wide, shallow bowl of soup of cucumber and melon. The flavor was so delicate, almost ethereal. I took almost as many notes grilling the chef about the soup as I did about my interview.
The original version of this dish calls for caviar. I made it for my charity dinner with whitefish caviar from the Seattle Caviar Co. The salty crunch pairs wonderfully with the subtle flavor. But for most days, a small pile of sour cream, lime and avocado would be my choice as a final garnish. You can add some sauteed shrimp or some crab if you feel luxurious. I use an immersible blender to puree the soup. If you don’t have one, you can pulse it in a blender or food processor, working in batches if necessary.
1 large leek (white and pale green parts only), sliced
2 shallots or 1/4 small onion, chopped roughly
1 1/2 pounds asparagus, ends trimmed, spears coarsely chopped
4 cups chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
2 cups chopped spinach leaves (about 3 1/2 ounces)
3 tablespoons parsley, roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 peeled pitted avocado
1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons sour cream
6 ounces of crab meat or cooked shrimp (optional)
4 oz. caviar (optional, yet wonderful)
Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks and shallots or onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add asparagus and stock; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover and simmer until asparagus is tender, about eight minutes. Add spinach, cover and simmer until wilted, about 4 minutes. Add the parsley. Puree the soup until smooth. (See headnote.) Shift the soup into a large bowl, season with salt, pepper and cayenne to taste. Cool slightly, then cover with plastic wrap and chill until cold about two hours or up to one day.