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simple asparagus + ramp soup with rustic spelt bread


A part of me kind of feels a bit ridiculous for posting two recipes with ramps/wild leeks today. Let me qualify this feeling a bit. A lot of people on my instagram/twitter feed seem to be enjoying this first spoil of spring (on the real: like lots). I definitely had a bit of a laugh when I read that they were sought out aggressively as some sort of “foodie merit badge” in an article that was published last year. I enjoy their mild and sweet onion-to-garlic taste and burst of first warm season nutrition, certainly. Spotting them on a Spring hike offers a special kind of thrill, a sense of discovery that is uncommon with more typical food-sourcing practices. There’s an intense freedom in sourcing your own food by wilder means. It’s a process coloured by curiosity, passion and independence.

But there is growing evidence that ramps/wild leeks are over-foraged. A more direct way of explaining this: since their glamorization of recent years, less thought is being given to their sometimes 18-month germination stage (kale is 5 days by comparison) and multi-year growth period necessary to produce an edible bulb. I sprialed down the rabbit hole reading blog posts and articles about dwindling ramp populations, stories of families that would look forward to gathering a few every year, having to go deeper and deeper into the forests for them as time has worn on. Those gorgeous photos of leafy bundles piled high at a farmer’s market table seem to capture a myopic worldview to me now. Fortunately, there are plenty of pieces that detail on sustainable harvesting techniques. In the discussion of local eating (whatever it may be defined by in whatever circle you find yourself in), entitlement, movements of excess and the need for more thorough investigation always seem to come up in an ethics tug of war.

Anyway, as with all things we take into our bodies that become a part of us, there has to be some serious thinking involved. I enjoyed these first bits of spring to the brim of fullness, from painstakingly washing away the grit and forest-y attachments to the actual enjoyment of the end product. Taking them in slowly and approaching the food with thought means a longer-felt sense of satiation for me. Very simply stated: I’m good for the year. Bring on the peas, strawberries and garlic scapes too please? Today I’m sharing two things I made with my little bundle of the alliums with you. There’s a brilliantly simple asparagus soup that capitalizes on that sweet onion flavour and a rustic spelt bread with some chopped greens folded in. Enjoyed together? Yes, yes.

I’ll also add a few notes on asparagus soup. I have to tell you, I’ve had some awfully crummy versions of it over the years. Ones where the sweetness of the perennial is overwhelmed by salty stock. Or the vegetable is very clearly overcooked, that damp funk ringing loud and clear. Sometimes its lightness is smothered in parmesan or truffle to the point of obscurity. With some trial and error I’ve learned a few key principles to follow when simmering up a soulful pot of this goodness. The seeming main point of this dish is to preserve and glorify that spring vegetal sweetness. Here’s how you do that: utilize acid in the form of white wine and a fresh squeeze of lime at the end. The lime adds a perfect sour lift that doesn’t turn the dish into asparagus + citrus soup. It serves the soup without overwhelming. Also, use a bit of heat, but not to the point where you can feel it. I add cayenne near the beginning of the cooking process and it merely serves to heighten sweetness. Lastly, enrich your stock with some wilt-y asparagus bits. Asparagus sweated out, simmered and puréed with asparagus stock? That’s the Platonic ideal of clean asparagus flavour right there. This is important.

Lastly, I made you some bread with chopped up ramp greens. Any sort of herbs would be nice in this (although in lesser amounts if you’re using rosemary, oregano, thyme + the like). The recipe is pretty simple and forgiving. It does require about 2 hours of mostly inactive time, but as with all warm and fresh bread-like things, it is certainly worth it.

simple asparagus + ramp soup recipe
serves: 4-6
notes: As I mentioned, I like to simmer my vegetable stock with a few chopped up pieces of asparagus prior to making this to really amp up the sweet asparagus flavour. Inevitably a few spears go off/wilt-y in a bunch, so I just chop those up and toss them in with the stock until they’ve gone a little past the bright green stage.

soup ingredients:
2 tsp grapeseed oil
12-15 ramps/wild leeks, cleaned + chopped, white bulbs + greens divided
1 medium waxy potato, peeled + 1/2 inch dice
1 bunch of asparagus, woody base ends removed, stalks cut into 1-2 inch lengths
1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper
heavy splash of dry white wine
salt + pepper
4-5 cups vegetable stock/asparagus stock
juice of 1 lime

garnishes:
kale chips (kale tossed in oil, salt + pepper and baked in a single layer at 400 degrees F for about 10 minutes or until crisp)
cooked quinoa
diced avocado
extra virgin olive oil
fresh pepper
chopped chives/chive blossoms
violet flowers (SO optional, guys. They’re all over our lawn and I shot this outside and whoa, there they were :))

Heat the grapeseed oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the chopped white ramp bulbs to the pot. Stir them around and cook them until slightly softened. Add the diced potato, asparagus and cayenne. Saute the vegetables for a minute or so. Add the white wine, let the alcohol burn off a bit and stir the vegetables some more. Season everything with salt and pepper. Keep cooking the vegetables until the asparagus is bright, bright green.

Add the vegetable stock to the pot (enough to cover by an inch or so) and bring the mixture to a boil. Simmer the soup until the potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes or so. Remove from the heat.

Carefully blend the soup in batches in your blender to puree. Add the lime juice to the pureed soup and stir to combine. Taste the soup for seasoning and adjust if necessary. To serve, bring the pureed soup to a boil and serve with any garnishes you like and slices of the spelt bread.

spelt bread with ramps recipe
barely adapted from Nigel Slater’s recipe in The Guardian
serves: makes 2 small loaves
notes: You could experiment with ratios of whole spelt to hard bread flour, but I tend to go with this recipe when I want a no fuss, lightly grainy bread. Of course, you can use other add-ins you like or just enjoy it plain.

2 1/2 cups/300g whole spelt flour
1 1/3 cups/200g hard bread flour
2 tsp fine sea salt
1 package of instant yeast (8 grams)
1 cup chopped ramps/wild leeks, green leafy parts only
1 1/3 cups water
oil for greasing a bowl

In a large bowl combine the spelt flour, bread flour, salt, yeast and chopped wild leeks. Stir them to combine. Add the water and stir until a dough starts to form. Bring it together with your hands. Dump the dough out onto a floured surface and bring it together. Knead for 8 – 10 minutes or until a supple and smooth dough forms with the slightest tackiness to it. It should feel warm and alive. It isn’t necessary to knock yourself out kneading this–just slowly keep on rolling it off the wrist until it feels good.

Form the dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl, rolling it around to coat. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let it rise in a warm spot for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

Punch the dough down, cut it in half and form both pieces into round ball shapes by gathering/pinching dough on the bottom of the ball with your fingers. Once you’ve shaped both breads, place them on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover the sheet with a damp towel and let the bread rise for 30-45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and secure a rack in the middle of the oven.

Once you’re ready to bake, use a very sharp knife to cut a slit into the top. Nestle a whole ramp leaf in there if you like. Bake the loaves until golden brown and hollow-sounding when tapped on the bottom, about 25 minutes. Allow loaves to cool slightly before enjoying.

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Kris08/05/2013 - 7:45 am

Lady! I love the story, the recipes, and the photos (of course). Hats off to you for that stunning (STUNNING) finished soup photo!

thelittleloaf08/05/2013 - 8:17 am

Super pretty pictures! I’ve made a variation on Nigel Slater’s spelt loaf too but including ramps (or whatever herby, oniony replacement I can get in the UK) sounds divine. Yum!

carey08/05/2013 - 8:27 am

It’s funny, for the few short weeks that ramps are in season here, their presence at stores and farmers’ markets would make you think they were grown in giant crops on every farm, not sought out in the woods. I’d like to think that this is due to an abundance of mature plants and skilled foragers, but something tells me that isn’t the case (especially given the demanding restaurant industry around here). *sigh*. I go a bit crazy for them when they first show up, but the idea of over-foraging will make me think twice about how many I really need to consume before the season ends. (I actually had no idea how highly sought after they were until this year. Thanks, instagram! Totally teaching me things.)

And this soup = early spring perfection. Spring-y flavors and un-funked up asparagus, but still warming with some bready goodness. And heck yes to flower garnishes. It really needs to cool the F down here, because this 80° sunny weather in May is kind of lame. (I don’t know if many people around here would agree with me, but it is.) I want highs in the low 70s and equal amounts of sun, clouds, and rain. Like, ya know, spring weather.

Kathryn08/05/2013 - 8:44 am

I’ve been slightly taken aback by the ramps-love this year – they’ve never really been on my radar before but the word does seem to have gone ramp-crazy. It’s sad to hear that that might cause problems for future crops. Saying that, I’m pretty sure I’d love them if I tried them. They sounds exactly like my kind of thing.

sarah08/05/2013 - 8:54 am

Lovely post Laura! I’ve only had asparagus soup once, and it was delicious. It was years and years and years ago, and I’ve always meant to try and recreate it, but now I can just make yours. And that bread! It looks so good.

Mariela08/05/2013 - 9:29 am

I am a sucker for creamy green soups. Love the recipe. Gorgeous!

Renee08/05/2013 - 10:46 am

This soup sounds simply lovely. I adore the inclusion of a hearty home-baked bread – there truly is nothing better with than a soup/crusty bread comfort combo. Also loving the budded chives – beautiful!

Eileen08/05/2013 - 2:49 pm

That soup is so green an beautiful!I love the violets as garnish. This really makes me wish we had any chance at ramps here on the west coast…but I suppose actual baby leeks will work well too. :)

Zita08/05/2013 - 3:10 pm

I am in love with this post. Period.

Dervla @ the curator08/05/2013 - 3:16 pm

hands down the most lovely photos of green soup ever! Plus I didn’t know about ramps being overforested, and I’m working on a book about foraging, oh no! Isn’t it amazing that too many people are foraging now, and a few years ago you couldn’t pay them to do it.

Lindsey08/05/2013 - 6:09 pm

the soup sounds amazing. do you think i could substitute a white yam for the waxy potato? not sure it would work. beautiful ,beautiful photos.

hungryandfrozen08/05/2013 - 7:22 pm

You are the queen of soup garnishes with that list, my goodness.

I have so long to wait for asparagus – Winter has just started here – but I know what you mean about a short burst of seasonal food being enough. I adore strawberries to pieces but I am actually happy to wait for them. I’m not sure I could live entirely seasonally, but I’m certainly happy to wait for some things because they simply won’t taste as good out of their proper time.

And so, I will wait, and wait, and wait, and come November or December, make myself this soup ;)

Also, love that bread recipe, I haven’t made bread in ages and I love how it looks like it’s smiling at me!

kels08/05/2013 - 8:51 pm

Thank you, dear one, for challenging the ramp-hype. I have to admit, when I see pictures of ramps all over Instagram I sorta feel like this: http://bit.ly/115R28h. It’s a shame how we, humans, can take a good thing and just make a mess out of it. I feel the same way about quinoa. I wrote about the human rights issues around it in Bolivia a few years ago and it was quite touchy for people, I’m proud of you for not being afraid to GO THERE. Okay, off the soapbox. This soup is stunning in all ways.

Laura Wright08/05/2013 - 10:10 pm

Hey Lindsey! You could certainly use a white yam in place of the potato. The starch content of the yam may be a bit lower so it won’t provide as much creaminess, but I think it will still get the job done :)
-L

Lindsey09/05/2013 - 9:36 am

awesome! thanks :)

How beautiful this is! the soup is so vibrant! I love a good bowl of soup with some rustic bread. Perfect summer meal.

Kathryne10/05/2013 - 2:56 pm

I have never tasted a ramp, but for all the blog love they have been getting lately, they must be super tasty. Your pictures are so gorgeous, Laura. Teach me!

Kankana11/05/2013 - 11:56 am

Asparagus soup is one of my fav. In fact asparagus is one of my fav in any form! Ramp on the other hand is something I haven’t had yet and am seeing it a LOT in the blog sphere. Clearly, I am missing out on something special and must find a bunch before the season slips by! LOVE the styling of your photos as always.

I want the bread! It looks so good. Baking starts to be my new hobby.

Kristy14/05/2013 - 2:53 pm

Seriously, Laura- that is one of the most gorgeous soups I’ve ever seen! And the photography is just stellar! Wowzers!

ileana15/05/2013 - 7:02 am

What a gorgeous soup!

Jacqui15/05/2013 - 9:04 pm

These shots are gorgeous Laura! Keep on rockin’ it!

[...] This is the most beautiful bowl of soup I have ever seen, Laura. [...]

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Danielle21/05/2013 - 3:13 pm

What an absolutely beautiful soup – so lovely with the splash of violet flowers and kale. It makes me feel that invigorating sense of spring just looking at it! It is a difficult consideration to make – I love eating wild things and the whole sense of nourishment that comes from going out in the forest to harvest. But then, what happens when everyone wants that! Or when a market opens up and the demand exceeds the availability? I came to the conclusion that I would only harvest the leaves and leave (no pun intended) the rootlets to continue growing. The leaves are just as delicious and then I’m happy and the plant is happy (or happier). Anyhow, I will be making this soon – nothing so good as a luscious green soup and a good rustic bread :)

Chiara28/05/2013 - 4:42 pm

Gorgeous photos!

I’ve made this soup twice over the past few weeks to take advantage of the early veg. The first time it was amazing, so fresh and light. Dead easy too.

The second time, I think I over cooked the vegetables and it was a bit unappetizing; I didn’t go back for seconds.

So be careful not to over cook the greens.

Jocelyn (Grandbaby Cakes)30/05/2013 - 10:58 am

This soup looks so incredible!!! Just so simple yet so complex with flavor.

Cwis24/06/2013 - 7:36 pm

I just made this soup and it didn’t come out the bright green color like the photo. Instead it looks like a murky greenish brown, closer to split pea soup. I used vegetable broth, not stock. Could that be the reason why?

Laura Wright25/06/2013 - 6:35 am

Hi Cwis,
Vegetable broth and stock are pretty interchangeable for me, so I’m sure that isn’t it. Did it taste good? It sounds like the aspragus got a little overcooked at some point… Once the veg is JUST tender, I end the cooking process and blend immediately so that I don’t lose the colour. Also, the asparagus I had used was quite thick, so maybe this allowed for some extra cooking time. Hope some of this is helpful to you.
-L

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Phoebe Lapine @FeedMePhoebe13/05/2014 - 12:54 pm

Both the bread and the soup look incredible. Asparagus is such a delicious spring vegetable and I love eating it in soup. Yum!

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