This luxurious soup is one of my favorite first courses. To trim asparagus, hold a stalk and snap it at the point where it naturally gives easily. This eliminates the woody, tough end, while keeping the tender top, the best part.
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ½ cups fresh or frozen corn
1/3 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
3 cups (about 8 ounces) sliced mushrooms
3 leeks (white parts only), halved lengthwise, rinsed, and cut into 1/8-inch slices
½ teaspoon curry powder
2 cups vegetable stock
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon cornstarch
3 tablespoons cold water
Salt and ground white pepper to taste
Steam the asparagus in a covered steamer over boiling water until crisp-tender. Or, put the asparagus in a microwave-proof dish and add about ¼ cup water. Cover tightly and microwave on high for about 4 minutes. Drain well; set aside.
Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the corn and bell pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add salt to taste. Set aside.
Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and leeks; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the curry powder; stir for about 30 seconds. Add the vegetable stock, milk, and asparagus. Increase the heat to medium-high and stir occasionally as the liquid comes to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium.
Stir together the cornstarch and cold water in a small bowl until smooth; stir into the soup. Cook, stirring constantly, until the soup is smooth and slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Season to taste.
Top each serving with about 2 tablespoons of the corn-bell pepper mixture.
This soup is best the day it is prepared, but it will keep for up to 3 days in a covered container in the refrigerator. When reheating, stir in vegetable stock or milk to thin as desired.
Paulette Mitchell, a culinary instructor, television personality, spokesperson, freelance food writer, and the award-winning author of 13 cookbooks, is known internationally for her quick-to-prepare recipes with gourmet flair. Paulette's most recently published cookbook is "The Complete 15-Minute Gourmet: Creative Cuisine Made Fast and Fresh." She is also the author of "A Beautiful Bowl of Soup" and "The Spirited Vegetarian," which was voted "Best Book in the World on Cooking with Wine" at the 2005 Gourmand World Media Awards. Paulette says that international travel is her favorite source of culinary inspiration.