Ramps may be the first to arrive at the party, but nothing says spring is in the air like asparagus. That holds true not only for New York, where the stalks have recently arrived at the Greenmarket, but also for Italy, where as former chef at the American Academy in Rome and author of two affiliated cookbooks, Chez Panisse alum Mona Talbott celebrated the Eternal City’s local produce. In Zuppe, she showcases the season’s first tender spears in a verdant minestrina, or vegetable-strewn broth, that is the visual and aromatic essence of green.
Mona Talbott’s Asparagus-and-Pastina Soup
1 bunch asparagus (about a pound and a half)
2 medium spring onions
2 stalks green garlic
2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to finish
2 1/2 quarts clear, light chicken broth
6 oz. pastina
(1) Snap and discard the very tough, woody ends from the asparagus spears. (2) Cut off the delicate tips of the asparagus and reserve. (3) If the stalks are thick or tough, peel them with a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler, then slice them into thin rounds. Peel and thinly slice the onions into 1-inch slices. If the bulb of the onion is large, cut it in half first. Peel and thinly slice the green garlic. Sweat the onion in olive oil over medium heat in a 4-quart soup pot until tender. Add the garlic and a pinch of salt, and continue cooking for another 2 minutes. Add the sliced asparagus rounds, and cover with chicken broth. Bring soup to a boil and then reduce to a lively simmer. Add the pasta—check the cooking time on the package; it will probably be about 8 minutes. After 6 minutes of cooking, add the asparagus tips for the final 2 minutes of simmering. Serve with grated grana padano, a grind of black pepper, and extra-virgin olive oil. Serves 4 to 6. Adapted from Zuppe: Soups From the Kitchen of the American Academy in Rome, by Mona Talbott (The Little Bookroom; $18.95).