2000s Recipes + Menus

Asparagus Soup with Parmesan Custards

  • Active Time:45 min
  • Start to Finish:2 1/2 hr
April 2002
Which is smoother or more silken—the soup itself or the tender Parmesan custards? The question will linger long after the last spoonful.

For custards

  • 2 1/2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano, coarsely grated (1 1/4 cups)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 whole large egg
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of white pepper

For soup

  • 1 large leek (white and pale green parts only), finely chopped (1 1/4 cups)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shallot
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Garnish:

    Parmigiano-Reggiano curls, shaved from a wedge with a vegetable peeler
  • Special equipment:

    6 (2-oz) ramekins

Make custards:

  • Bring cheese, cream, and milk just to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and steep, covered, 30 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 300ºF.
  • Pour steeped cream through a very fine sieve into a bowl, pressing lightly on cheese solids and discarding them. Whisk together whole egg, yolks, salt, and white pepper in another bowl, then add steeped cream in a stream, whisking until smooth. Divide among well-buttered ramekins.
  • Set ramekins in a baking pan and bake in a hot water bath in middle of oven until centers of custards are completely set, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer ramekins to a rack and cool 5 minutes (do not allow to cool longer, or custards will stick to ramekins).

Make soup while cream steeps and custards bake:

  • Wash chopped leek in a bowl of cold water, then lift out and drain well. Cook leek, shallot, pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in butter in a 4- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring, until leek is softened, about 3 minutes. Add asparagus, broth, and water and simmer, covered, until asparagus is just tender, 10 to 12 minutes. After 2 to 4 minutes, remove 6 asparagus tips, halve lengthwise and reserve for garnish.
  • Purée soup in batches in a blender until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids). Transfer to a large bowl, then pour through a sieve into cleaned pot. Stir in cream, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste and heat over moderately low heat until hot.

Serve soup with custards:

  • Working with 1 custard at a time, run a thin knife around edge of each to loosen it, then invert a soup bowl over ramekin and invert custard into bowl. Repeat with remaining custards. Ladle soup around custards and garnish with reserved asparagus tips and parmesan curls.
Cooks' note: Soup can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, uncovered, then chill, covered.
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