It is the beginning of the asparagus season and asparagus and blue cheese go so well together. You get a rich and somewhat salty soup. Bellingham Blue, produced in Mansfieldtown, Co Louth, by Peter and Anita Thomas is a beautiful cheese. Then there are the sister cheeses of Cashel Blue and Crozier Blue and their visitor and tasting experience is well worth booking. This soup also works well with peas or spinach instead of asparagus.

I like to use leftover ham hock in the sweet potato and coconut soup. I sometimes make it with butternut squash or carrot. This is a great comfort soup that keeps well for two to three days in the fridge. Leave out the ham and you have a very good vegetarian soup.

Happy cooking,


Asparagus soup with Blue Cheese and croutons

Serves four to six

Neven Maguire recipes April 2022. \ Philip Doyle

675g (1½lb) bunch of asparagus, woody ends removed

50g (2oz) butter

2 large shallots, finely chopped

1 potato, diced, 900ml (1½ pints) chicken stock

175g (6oz) blue cheese, crumbled

100ml (3 ½fl oz) cream, plus extra to garnish

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Crunchy croutons, to garnish

Extra virgin olive oil, to garnish

  • 1 Cut 5cm (2in) of the tips off the asparagus stalks and simmer them very gently in a pan of boiling salted water for three to four minutes, until just tender. Drain well and refresh under cold running water. Set aside.
  • 2 Roughly chop the remaining stalks. Heat the butter in a large pan over a medium heat and add the shallots, potato and chopped asparagus stalks. Cover and cook gently for 10 minutes until softened but not coloured, stirring once or twice.
  • 3 Pour in the stock, season to taste and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes until the potatoes are completely tender and the soup has thickened slightly. Leave the soup to cool a little, then purée in batches in a food processor or with a hand-held liquidiser.
  • 4 Return to the pan and whisk in most of the blue cheese, reserving some for a garnish, and the cream. Season to taste and reheat gently, being careful not to boil.
  • 5 Serve hot or chilled, ladled into bowls and garnished with the reserved asparagus tips, the rest of the blue cheese and a sprinkling of croutons. Drizzle over a little extra virgin olive oil to finish.
  • Sweet potato and coconut soup with ham

    Serves six to eight

    900g (2lb) sweet potatoes, diced

    2 tbsp sunflower oil

    1 onion, finely chopped

    1 celery stick, finely chopped

    1 red chilli, halved, seeded and thinly sliced

    1.25 litres (2¼ pints)

    vegetable or chicken stock

    4 tsp tomato purée

    400g (14oz) can coconut milk

    225g (8oz) cooked, shredded ham hock

    Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

    Handful of fresh coriander leaves, to garnish

    Crusty bread, to serve

  • 1 Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F/gas mark 6).
  • 2 Place the sweet potatoes in a baking tin. Drizzle over one tablespoon of the sunflower oil and roast for 15 minutes, or until tender. Set aside.
  • 3 Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the onion, celery and chilli and sweat for four minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • 4 Add the roasted sweet potatoes with the stock and tomato purée, then bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes, until all of the vegetables are completely tender.
  • 5 Reserve three to four tablespoons of the coconut milk as a garnish and pour the remainder into the pan with most of the shredded ham hock, again holding a little back to garnish. Cook for another few minutes, stirring constantly. Season to taste and ladle the soup into warmed bowls.
  • 6 Add a drizzle of the reserved coconut milk and scatter over the rest of the shredded ham hock and the coriander leaves to garnish. Serve hot with some tasty crusty bread on the side.
  • Brown Scones

    Makes about 10

    Rapeseed or sunflower oil, for greasing

    225g (8oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting

    225g (8oz) coarse wholemeal flour

    ½ tsp baking soda

    ½ tsp salt

    50g (2oz) wheat bran

    25g (1oz) butter, diced and at room temperature

    1 tsp light muscovado sugar

    300ml (½ pint) buttermilk, plus a little extra if necessary

    1 tsp golden syrup butter or lightly whipped cream, to serve

    strawberry jam, to serve

  • Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F/gas mark 7).
  • Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and grease the paper. Sift the flours, baking soda and salt into a bowl. Tip in the bran left in the sieve and stir in with the wheat bran. Rub in the butter with your fingertips until evenly dispersed. Stir through the sugar.
  • Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the buttermilk and golden syrup. Using a large spoon, mix gently and quickly until you have achieved a smooth, not-too-sticky dough. Add a little bit more buttermilk if necessary, until the dough binds together without being sloppy.
  • On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a 2.5cm (1in) thickness and cut into rounds with a 6cm (2 ½in) plain cutter. Arrange on the lined baking sheets and bake for 10–15 minutes, until golden brown and well risen. Serve with butter or lightly whipped cream and strawberry jam.