Spears of spring grace soup

Entertaining: Asparagus and leeks join in a vernal potage.

April 18, 1999|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Several months ago, I tasted an incredible soup during a visit to the Cotswolds in England. I was having lunch at the Lords of the Manor, a 17th-century inn in the little town of Upper Slaughter, and ordered their potato and leek soup. The potage arrived piping hot with a single plump, pan-seared scallop as the only garnish. The dish was outstanding.

After returning home, I intended to reproduce that soup but never got around to it. However, last week, I picked up some asparagus for an evening meal. Then it dawned on me that I could re-create the soup using asparagus in place of potatoes.

My husband and I enjoyed this dish with a salad and a warm baguette for supper, but I am planning to use it again as an opener for a dinner party later this month. It could be followed by a grilled leg of lamb, baked salmon or roast chicken.

Spring Asparagus Soup With Pan-Seared Scallops

Serves 6

3 pounds asparagus

3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 cups chopped leeks, white parts only

6 1/2 cups chicken stock, plus extra if needed

salt

1 cup half and half

1 cup whole milk

freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tablespoon oil

6 large plump sea scallops ( 1/2 pound) with connective tissue removed and discarded

1 tablespoon chopped chives

Remove and discard tough ends from asparagus. Then slice asparagus stalks into 1/2 -inch pieces. Set aside.

Heat 3 tablespoons butter in large, heavy, deep-sided pot (with lid) over medium heat. When hot, add leeks and saute, stirring, 1 minute. Add asparagus and stir and cook 2 minutes more. Add stock and salt to taste. Bring mixture to simmer. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until vegetables are very tender, about 25 minutes.

Remove from heat. Puree mixture in food processor, blender or food mill. Return soup to pan in which it was cooked and place over low heat. Whisk in half and half and milk and cook, stirring, until warm. Soup will be quite thick. To thin it, add up to 3/4 cup extra stock. Taste and season soup with more salt if needed and several grinds of black pepper. (Soup can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat, stirring, when ready to serve.) Heat remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter and oil in small, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When very hot, add scallops and saute, turning, until lightly browned and opaque, 4 to 5 minutes. Salt and pepper generously.

Ladle soup into 6 soup bowls and place 1 scallop in center of each. Sprinkle some chives over each portion. Serve immediately.

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