We have been blogging about food for a month and just struck gold. This is not to say we haven’t made some good dishes and cocktails. We have, and we feel great about sharing them. But sometimes you make a dish and it just sings. This is one of those dishes.
Is this the best dish ever? No. But is this the best dish you can make with 2 pans and in 30 minutes? Possibly, yes. We tested it on friends and kids. They agree. Kids happily (as in finishing the whole thing) eating asparagus? Yes, it’s that good. Friends texting you saying “holy s#@t that’s good”? Yes. And we have Judy Rodgers from Zuni in San Francisco to thank for it.
Now, I think we do a good job (and follow the rules) attributing recipes, even if we change them substantially. But in this case, I will just defer to the master (mistress?). Any change is minimal. Judy Rodgers is a Goddess and this is her recipe.
And this is a recipe you can make any time. It has minimal ingredients and requires no special equipment. The only “special” thing you need for this recipe is fresh asparagus, which is in season right now. You can use store-bought chicken stock and bacon/pancetta (but home-cured bacon is best). All of the other ingredients are simple and it’s likely you have them in your kitchen right now. You can even alter the recipe timing for the type of rice you have on hand. This soup is hard to mess up.
As for the taste, this soup has the magic balance of a light texture, but deep flavor. All without being a salt-lick, which can be an issue for many soups. It is an asparagus dish, but it seems to only feature the sweetness and crunch of the asparagus. The onion and bacon are savory and the rice adds starch and texture. Black pepper gives the dish a pleasant, and surprising, bite. And all of the ingredients meld perfectly with the chicken stock. We used Swanson’s Natural Goodness, reduced sodium stock (when we do not have our own stock) and the soup was great. But the dish will be even better with homemade stock, if you have it. Either way, this is a restaurant-quality dish you can make at home.
Finally, this is a great dish if you are entertaining this spring. The active cooking time on this dish is minimal. And you can prepare the bacon and asparagus mixture ahead of time, with just a slight loss of texture. When ready to make the soup, you can make the onion, stock and rice component of the dish in 20 minutes, with less than 5 minutes of active time. Then just add the bacon and asparagus, heat and serve. You can chat, have a cocktail, and then wow your guests. (And if you follow the soup with lamb and roasted potatoes you may be close to nirvana).
Our only surprise with this soup is that it is not more popular. But our guess is that the simplicity of the dish makes it easy to ignore. But do not ignore this dish. If you are cooking for family, or entertaining, this soup is an absolute winner.
Asparagus and Rice Soup:
(Barely adapted from Judy Rodgers’ Zuni Cookbook)
Notes Before You Start:
- You can use long, medium or short-grained rice in this recipe. You literally just simmer the rice until done. But we do not suggest brown rice or wild rice, as they have much longer cooking times.
What You Get: A fantastic soup in under 30 minutes. A great use of asparagus.
What You Need: No special equipment required.
How Long? 30 minutes total and about 5 minutes of active time. You just need to chop the onions, asparagus and bacon. Make this dish any time.
- 4 tablespoons good olive oil
- 1 and 1/2 cups diced onions (one large onion)
- 1/4 cup white rice
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 8 oz. asparagus, stems removed, sliced diagonally into 1/8 inch pieces
- 4 oz. bacon or pancetta, diced
- Salt and pepper
- Place a medium saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add oil, onions and a pinch of salt. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they soften and become translucent, about 10 minutes.
- Add the rice and chicken stock to the pot, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook until the rice is done, about 15-20 minutes depending on the rice. Stir occasionally.
- Meanwhile, place a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bacon and cook for 2-3 minutes or until slightly brown and redering some fat. Add the asparagus and stir to coat with the bacon fat. Then cook, without stirring for about 4 minutes. Stir and cook for another 4 minutes. The asparagus should be tender. Cook for 4 minutes more if it is not ready. Remove from heat when asparagus is done.
- Once the asparagus is ready and the rice is done in the pot, add the asparagus and bacon to the pot. Stir to combine. Grind in a good amount of black pepper and serve.