The month of May was the coolest and rainiest in 38 years. Needless to say, crankiness was felt everywhere. A couple of weeks ago, in an effort to lift the mood, I hosted a spring lunch in which peas, fava, new onions, string beans and, of course, asparagus had a part to play. We started with a vibrant asparagus soup drizzled with a cèpe essence; a recipe Neal Fraser, chef-owner of Grace Restaurant in Los Angeles, contributed to Cooking on the Road. I love the simplicity and lightness of this soup combined with the intense woodsy flavors of the wild mushrooms and aromas reminiscent of damp underbrush in the spring, which, I thought, were very fitting for the occasion.

As I was directing the guests to their seats, my father felt compelled to make an announcement and to apologize for serving a soup as a first course. Why? I asked. Soups are appropriate for dinner and certainly not for lunch was the answer. I looked at him in disbelief, wondering when my father had morphed into a 19th century French Emily Post. My other guests, the polite ones, sensing a slight chill in the air, quickly sat down and silently grabbed their spoons. Then, the man sitting to my right declared: “sublissime.” Case closed!

Asparagus Soup with Cèpe Mushrooms Essence

Six to 8 servings

  • 1/8 ounce dried cèpes or porcini mushrooms
  • 1 cup non fat milk
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 jumbo white onions, peeled and sliced
  • 1 small head celery, chopped
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 3 bunches of asparagus, peeled and chopped
  • Kosher salt to taste

Place the dried mushrooms in a small saucepan. Add the milk and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and let it steep for 20 minutes. Puree the mixture in a blender and strain through a fine meshed strainer. Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate until ready to use. This can be done up to one day ahead.

Heat the oil in a stock pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Do not brown. Add the celery and some salt. Continue cooking until the vegetable are soft. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the chopped asparagus to the pot and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Puree the mixture in a blender and strain (optional). Adjust seasoning to taste with salt. The soup can be prepare ahead of time and kept refrigerated until ready to serve.

To serve, reheat the soup and ladle into serving bowls. Spoon or swirl some cèpe essence into each serving.