laying with seasonal ingredients is often a challenge,
because availability may lag behind need. But many
chefs find the thought of spring so creatively energizing
that it’s worth gambling on supply.
Easy to prepare and typically cost-effective, a unique soup can
become a signature menu item that drives other sales. It can also
be indicative of the edgy cachet of the menu that follows.
The excitement of spring invariably drives Kerry Heffernan,
consulting chef for Dylan Prime, New York, to the city’s Union
Square Greenmarket by late April/early May. There, he searches
for potential soup ingredients, perhaps spring onions, asparagus
and ramps. “I’m very fond of ramps,” he says. “They’ve been on
the radar of New York chefs for about a decade and have taken off
like crazy, especially during the last five years.”
Heffernan suggests creating a hot potato/leek soup finished
with ramps, or perhaps combining clams, bacon, ramps, chicken
stock, leek and thyme. As a Season 4 “Top Chef Masters” finalist,
Heffernan knows from experience that often it’s the simplest
preparation of the freshest seasonal ingredients that earns kudos.
For his clam/bacon/ramps soup, he suggests using two cups
of chicken stock, a dozen littleneck clams, two ounces of bacon
and a good-sized bunch of ramps. He cleans the ramps thoroughly,
trimming the roots and the bottom of the stem, then cuts the green
part once or twice.
To prepare, he sweats the minced bacon and the white part
of a minced leek for about two or three minutes, then adds the
minced white part of the ramps, the clams, two sprigs of thyme
and the chicken stock. He covers, brings to a simmer, cooks until
the clams begin to open, then adds the green part of the ramps. He
cooks until all clams open and the green parts of the ramps are
cooked, 2-3 minutes. Finally, he checks seasoning, removes the
thyme sprigs and swirls in two tablespoons of butter.
Finding asparagus—especially wild asparagus—is “hugely
popular in the spring,” Heffernan says. He’ll often combine it with
leek in a soup. “The bottoms go into chicken stock base along with
leek until they’re bright green and tender, then I puree with a bit
of tarragon.” He combines the asparagus tops with lemon zest and
ricotta as garnish.
Most summers during his childhood, Jeff McInnis would
spend time visiting his grandparents on their chicken farm in
Alabama. He remembers filling a big bucket with ears of corn,
then covering them with water to soak all day until his grandfather
would heat up the bucket that night. “The corn would be popping
and roasting, and he’d have a couple of pounds of butter melting
in a coffee can,” McInnis recalls. “He’d pull the husks back like a
handle, and we’d dip the corn on the cob into the can of butter.”
For his Sweet Corn Soup with Fritters, he’ll often add his
“secret” ingredient for extra crunch. “Whenever you make
cornbread, crumble leftovers with your fingers and leave it on a
tray in the oven at 225°F for about an hour,” McInnis says. “Let it
dry out to a crumbly powder. Then, sprinkle some on top of the
corn soup for crunch.”
If you’re aiming for a heart-healthy preparation for the soup,
he suggests replacing half the amount of cream with chicken stock.
“You can puree the corn in a blender with milk or skim milk, then
add cooked potato in with the corn to thicken,” he says.
McInnis will do a vegetable stock-based pea soup and garnish
with a few curly, delicate pea tendrils. Then, he’ll make buttermilk
yogurt and stir it into the pea puree at the last minute. “It’s always
my focus to cook pure, and one of the ways of not needing salt is to
use real ingredients,” he says. “If you’re in an area with a farmers
market with product raised properly, you’ll have real flavor.”
opposite: idaho potato, leek and spring onion soup from Kerry heffernan can be
garnished with watercress or ramps. above, Jeff mcinnis gives crunch to this sweet
corn soup with a sprinkle of cornbread crumbs.