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Vichy What?

With the farmer’s market in full swing, the asparagus is lined up like sentries ready to descend on the new potatoes and the geraniums that seem to be proliferating as every week passes. They are perfect (the asparagus I mean) tossed with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and thrown on the grill.  It is discouraging though when they are one turn from perfection and that last flip with the tongs throws them under the grate and into the coals of the Weber.

I know it may be hard to believe, but if grilling is not your thing, they can also be blanched, shocked and become part of a composed salad.  However, they can also be added to the classic potato and leek soup called vichyssoise; pronounced (vih-shee-swazh).

There is an ongoing debate as to whether this classic was an American invention (says Julia Child) or rather it is of French origin.  Regardless, this is a perfect soup for summer!  Making it a day ahead allows the flavors a chance to marry.  And, it offers you the opportunity of washing the blender and getting it back in the cabinet well before your dinner guests arrive.

Some people like it best served warm; I on the other hand enjoy it cold, garnished with a little chervil and the tops of a couple of sentries — yes the asparagus tops.  Enjoy it now and if the asparagus departs before you’ve had a chance to snatch up a bundle, make it the classic way with the leeks and potatoes.  Either way it will be delicious.

Serves 6 as a first course

1 pound asparagus, tips reserved, stalks cut into 1-inch lengths
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large leek, white and tender green parts only
1/4 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 ¼ cups chicken stock preferably home made
1 cup water
1 – 2 large thyme sprig
1 cup whole milk, preferably organic
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

In a saucepan of boiling salted water, blanch the asparagus tips until crisp-tender, about 1 minute. Drain the asparagus tips in a colander and refresh under cold water.  Pat dry, halve the tips lengthwise and set aside.

To clean the leeks, cut the root end off and remove the first layer.  Cut in half lengthwise and cut into thin half rounds.  Submerge in cold water, swishing the leeks around to dislodge and dirt.  Allow them to sit undisturbed allowing the dirt to rest on the bottom of the bowl.  Then, carefully lift out the leeks into a strainer, shaking to remove as much water as possible.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the leeks and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the asparagus stalks, potatoes, stock, water and thyme and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Discard the thyme sprig. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender, then transfer to a large bowl.

Stir in the milk, salt and white pepper. Let the soup cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours or overnight.

Ladle the soup into chilled bowls. Garnish with the asparagus tips and serve.  The soup can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 2 days.