After a late show a week or so ago, my husband went to a restaurant that we used to love. It had a good beer selection, and the food was always decent. Never the best, but they had this amazing baked artichoke that I always knew would be good even if the rest of the meal fell flat.
Unfortunately, when we got there, the menu had changed, and they had removed the artichoke I loved so much. Nothing looked that great on the menu, but on the special board they had beer cheese soup. I could live without the artichoke with that, right?
Not so much. It seemed as if whomever made the soup took some beer and put it in a pot, simmered it and added some cheese. It was thin and watery, with specks of cheese floating in. The croutons thrown haphazardly on top did little to save this disaster they called soup. I remarked to my husband that I could go home and make a beer cheese soup without a recipe that would be world’s better than this.
So that’s what I did. Not that night, of course, and the soup I made isn’t exactly a beer cheese soup, although it does have those two ingredients. Instead, I made this version using two of my favorite spring vegetables: Asparagus and leeks.
The cheese crisp idea came from all those times I’ve made grilled cheese in my cast iron skillet and the cheese fell out of the bread and turned into those browned, crispy bits that are better than the sandwich. They’re easy to make, and better than just putting plain old shredded cheese on top, although that’s good too. Some sour cream and crostini I had lying around finished it off.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 leeks, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- ¼ cup flour
- 1 bottle pale ale
- 2 cups milk
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 1 bunch asparagus, tough ends cut off, chopped
- 3 cups grated white cheddar, plus ½ cup or so for crisps
- Sour cream and croutons, for garnish
- Salt and lots of fresh ground pepper
- Heat the butter in a Dutch oven or saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook until soft, 6-8 minutes.
- Add the garlic, and cook for 1 more minute, and stir in the dry mustard and the flour. Cook for a couple minutes until the flour is incorporated and lightly brown.
- Stir in the beer and cook until the liquid is reduced by about half. You want to cook until the aroma of the beer is almost gone, or your soup may taste slightly bitter. This will take maybe 6-7 minutes.
- Add the milk, the stock and the asparagus. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a low simmer. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
- While the soup is simmering, make the cheese crisps. Heat a nonstick skillet (cast iron is best) until it is very hot. Add the cheese, about a teaspoon at a time, without piling it up too high. Let it cook until bubbly, flip and cook for another few seconds. When the cheese pieces start to brown a little, remove from the pan or it will taste burned. It will brown up as it cools.
- Transfer the soup to a blender and puree until smooth, leaving a few pieces of asparagus if you like. Return to pot and stir in 3 cups cheese over low heat.
- If the soup is too thick, add a little bit more milk or stock. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve the soup topped with a spoonful of sour cream, some croutons and a few of the cheese crisps.