I recently made a couple of similar soups, both of which feature an early-spring vegetable, rice, and a secret-weapon ingredient. I'd originally planned to pit the two soups and their secret weapons against each other in a match to the death on this bl*g, but I actually really like them both, and why does everything have to be a contest all the time, anyway?
Then I thought I'd take the best of both soups and combine them into a super soup—a souper!—but I'd like full credit for having made them both and am not up for the math and Sophie's-Choice-type decisions involved in combining them. So I present to you no. 1 of 2, Asparagus, Rice, and Pancetta Soup.
[If there was in fact going to be a soup deathmatch, I think this one would win—I'm quite smitten with it, even after eating it for a week straight. It's certainly delicious and good looking enough to serve to guests, plus the flavors are more complex than soup no. 2. I love the little bits of pancetta and grains of rice in every bite, and the cheese adds an unexpected richness. But this is not a contest.]
A few notes:
1. The original recipe calls for a "small bunch of thyme, leaves only." The first time I made this soup I had the yachtsman remove the leaves from the stems of the thyme; there was a lot of complaining, because it turns out this is a very irritating job. The second time I made this the yachtsman was out of town so I had to do my own menial labor, and I was able to get about 2 tablespoons of thyme leaves before I went insane, hence the measurement in the recipe. Do what you can, as the thyme does add a nice flavor.
2. The original recipes calls for chicken stock; I used Imagine's No Chicken Broth, because though I apparently have no problem with the pig (which is, in fact, this soup's secret weapon), I'm still disturbed by poultry. Any good stock will do, but it really should be good, as it's the backbone of this dish.
3. I translated this recipe from the British, however both times I made it I forgot to measure my weighed cheese before I dumped it in the pot. Let's just say it's a lot of cheese. Maybe ¾ cup? Does that seem excessive? Could everyone just buy a scale already? The next time I make this I'll update the recipe; in the meantime, use the power of the Force or the ghost of Julia Child or whoever as your guide. But do add the cheese—the first time I made this I tasted the soup pre-cheese, and it was so good I couldn't imagine the cheese would improve on it. But it does. Just ask Yoda or Julia Child or whoever.
Asparagus, Rice, and Pancetta Soup
Adapted from My Favourite Ingredients by Skye Gyngell
2–3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 red onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme (leaves only)
5 slices of pancetta, chopped into small pieces
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup white rice
4 cups good stock
2 cups water
~15 asparagus spears
75 g freshly grated Parmesan
1. Warm enough olive oil to cover the bottom of your Dutch oven over medium/medium-low heat. Add the onions, thyme, and a pinch of salt
and sweat for 10 minutes or until the onions are soft, sweet, and translucent.
2. Add the pancetta pieces and the garlic and cook for another 10 minutes or so, then add the rice and give everything a quick stir. Add the stock and water, and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat down to low, cover the pan, and cook until the rice is done but still chewy, ~20 minutes.
3. While the rice is cooking, prepare the asparagus. Snap off and discard the ends, then slice the stalks into short pieces. Add the asparagus to the soup and cook for 2–3 minutes until just tender. Add the parmesan and stir. Season with s&p.