Gourmet | April 2002
yield: Makes 6 servings
2 1/2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano, coarsely grated (1 1/4 cups)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1 whole large egg
2 large egg yolks
1/8 teaspoon salt
Pinch of white pepper
Special equipment: 6 (2-oz) ramekins
1 large leek (white and pale green parts only), finely chopped (1 1/4 cups)
1/2 cup finely chopped shallot
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/2 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 300°F. Pour steeped cream through a very fine sieve into a bowl, pressing lightly on cheese solids and discarding them. Whisk together whole egg, yolks, salt, and white pepper in another bowl, then add steeped cream in a stream, whisking until smooth. Divide among well-buttered ramekins.
Set ramekins in a baking pan and bake in a hot water bath in middle of oven until centers of custards are completely set, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer ramekins to a rack and cool 5 minutes (do not allow to cool longer, or custards will stick to ramekins).
Make soup while cream steeps and custards bake: Wash chopped leek in a bowl of cold water, then lift out and drain well. Cook leek, shallot, pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in butter in a 4- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring, until leek is softened, about 3 minutes. Add asparagus, broth, and water and simmer, covered, until asparagus is just tender, 10 to 12 minutes. After 2 to 4 minutes, remove 6 asparagus tips, halve lengthwise and reserve for garnish.
Purée soup in batches in a blender until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids). Transfer to a large bowl, then pour through a sieve into cleaned pot. Stir in cream, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste and heat over moderately low heat until hot.
Serve soup with custards:
Working with 1 custard at a time, run a thin knife around edge of each to loosen it, then invert a soup bowl over ramekin and invert custard into bowl. Repeat with remaining custards. Ladle soup around custards and garnish with reserved asparagus tips and parmesan curls.
Bench Notes: Once again, I did not do the whole garnish thing. Perhaps if this were for company, but since it's just for us... The taste of the custard is pure Parmesan and the texture is silky. I haven't made custard or pudding in ages, so I was a little concerned, but ... easy as can be. This isn't the asparagus soup you'll make lots, but it's worth the effort when something elegant is called for. Just sublime.