- Associated Press - Thursday, March 24, 2011

Global markets and high-tech shipping methods have put asparagus on our tables virtually year-round, yet most of us still associate it with spring.

Whenever you eat it, asparagus is a nutritional powerhouse. It is low in calories (about 5 calories per stalk) and packed with folate and vitamins A, C and E.

Green, purple and white varieties of asparagus are common, though green is the least expensive and most readily available. Green asparagus has a fresh, woodsy flavor, while purple varieties tend to have a more fruity flavor. White asparagus is milder in flavor and always should be peeled before cooking.

When shopping for asparagus, look for firm stalks with tight tips. Fresh asparagus should snap when bent. Though best eaten the day purchased, asparagus can be refrigerated, wrapped in a damp cloth inside a plastic bag, for three days.

Be sure to rinse all asparagus thoroughly before cooking to remove any lingering sand.

For this simple asparagus-and-potato soup, all the vegetables are roasted at high heat. They then are pureed until smooth and combined with thick, nonfat Greek-style yogurt, which gives the soup a creamy quality that belies its low-fat nutritional profile.

To top off the soup, shreds of sweet and salty prosciutto ham are crisped in a skillet to create a garnish that has all the appeal of crumbled bacon, without all the grease.

Roasted asparagus and potato soup

6 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon water

1¼ pounds asparagus, bottoms trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 3 cups)

2 cups peeled and diced Yukon Gold potatoes

1 medium sweet onion, cut into 6 wedges

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

2 ounces prosciutto, chopped

3 cups chicken broth, divided

6 ounces nonfat plain Greek-style yogurt

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon

Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Place the garlic on a square of foil and sprinkle with water. Fold the foil into a packet. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the asparagus, potatoes, onion, oil, salt and black pepper. Toss to coat. Spread the vegetables over 2 large rimmed baking sheets. Place the packet of garlic in a corner of one of the sheets. Roast, stirring occasionally, until the asparagus is soft and the potatoes are tender, 35 to 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet over medium heat, crisp the prosciutto, about 5 minutes per side.

When the vegetables are roasted, empty the garlic onto the baking sheet with the other vegetables and cool for 5 minutes.

Transfer half of the vegetables into a blender. Add 1½ cups of the broth, then blend until smooth. Transfer to a large pot. Repeat, using the remaining vegetables and remaining broth. Warm the soup over medium heat.

Whisk the yogurt, lemon juice and tarragon into the soup. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Crumble the prosciutto and use it to top each serving.

Serves 4.

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