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Lemony Ham & Asparagus Soup

A couple of weeks ago my Connecticut days were just beginning to show signs of longer days and warmer weather and I was antsy to start cooking with spring-like ingredients like asparagus, ham and lemons. About the same time, Katie Workman posted on Facebook – or was it Instagram (you should follow her on both. I do.) –  her version of a lemony Greek soup called Avgolemono. Katie’s recipes are always delicious and this one in particular inspired me to make my own version of this soup using those springy ingredients that I was craving.

Like Katie’s, my version is rich without being heavy, creamy without a drop of cream and infused with just the right amount of lemon for a bright, fresh flavor. I load the soup with fresh veggies and to add depth and an underlying heat to the broth, I add a cracked jalapeno while the soup simmers. You can leave it out but I like the way the subtle heat pairs with the lemon – you’ll taste it on the back end of each spoonful. For this version, asparagus is the star veg but feel free to sub in another bright, fresh meaty green like broccoli, peas, fava or green beans. The same holds true for the protein – lots of options available. I use diced ham or chicken interchangeably but firm tofu or cooked beans would work as well. I’ve included several starch options but I’ve left its addition optional. I switch it up depending on what I have in my frig that’s already cooked. I had some wild rice hanging out in my frig so I added it to this batch for an additional spring touch but cooked pasta, brown or white rice or diced cooked potatoes all make for a lovely soup.

A bowl of this beauty will  hit the spot – just perfect for a weeknight dinner and, depending on the size of your brood and their appetites, leftovers for lunch the next day.

Lemony Ham & Asparagus Soup

Makes 8 cups (without added starch).

2 Tbs. unsalted butter

1 large onion, chopped

3 (about 6 oz. total) medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices

2 (about 3 oz. total) celery stalks, and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices

1 small jalapeno, cracked open when firmly pressed with the flat blade of a chef’s knife

Bouquet garni (fresh parsley and thyme sprigs and bay leaf, bundled and tied together with kitchen twine)

Coarse salt & pepper, to taste

6 cups chicken stock or broth

12 (about 8 oz. total) medium-thick asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces and   set aside the tips

3 Tbs. cornstarch

3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice + more to taste

2 large eggs

2 cups (about 10 oz.) lightly packed diced cooked chicken OR  thick-sliced baked ham cut into bite-size pieces

One or two of the following to equal 1 to 1 1/2 cups (optional):

Small pasta, cooked al dente and drained

White, brown or wild rice, cooked

Diced potato, cooked and drained

Ground Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, for serving

  1. In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the onions, carrots and celery and cook, stirring, until the onions are soft, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the crushed jalapeno, bouquet garni, a good pinch of salt and pepper and cook until fragrant, 1 minute.
  2. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently until the carrots are just barely tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the asparagus stem pieces and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the asparagus is barely tender, 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, put the cornstarch and lemon juice and in a medium, heatproof bowl and whisk until blended. Whisk in the eggs until well blended. Whisking the egg mixture constantly, slowly add a ladle or two of the hot broth (leave as much of the vegetables behind). Slide the pan from the heat and slowly drizzle the egg mixture back into the saucepan in the center while whisking to blend. Stir in the chicken, asparagus tips and your choice of starch, if using. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat, until the liquid thickens and the chicken and starch are warm. Give the soup a taste and add more lemon juice, salt and pepper, as needed. Fish out the jalapeno and the bouquet garni and serve each bowl with a good dusting of Parmigiano Reggiano.
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