Friday, December 11, 2009

Baby, It's Cold Outside!

The calendar may not admit that it’s winter yet, but it’s cold outside! First there was a blizzard with all its blowing and drifting (and a snow day even at the local universities), then came the cold. This morning it was -8 (Fahrenheit !) So, bitterly cold weather, lots of root vegetables from our CSA stashed in various places about the apartment…I’m thinking soup!

There seem to be a thousand ways with a thousand vegetables that all work for soup this time of year. (Heck, a bowl of hot water sounds pretty good if you’re cold enough.) I kept this one simple and featured carrots and parsnips, two great roots that taste great together. They even look a little alike, at least in shape and size, and their tastes are similar enough to suggest that they are related to each other, but different enough to make a soup of sufficiently complex flavor. Potatoes, celery and onions go along for the ride, and make it all work well without any backseat driving.

It doesn’t really matter how you cut the vegetables for this soup, because it is pureed in the end. Just remember that the smaller you cut the vegetables, the faster they cook. I like to use an immersion blender to puree the soup. I find it to be less messy than dirtying extra bowls, blenders or food processors. Of course, careless use of an immersion blender can result in a truly amazing splatter-fest, but I’ve been able to avoid such things.

I used fresh thyme and rosemary in this soup, because I still have a lot of fresh herbs that I rescued from the frost on the patio. I tied them in a little bouquet garni, and removed them from the soup before pureeing. You could use dried thyme (about 1 teaspoon) and dried rosemary (just a large pinch, crumbled) if that is more convenient, or add whatever herbs you like. There’s also a generous amount of black pepper in this recipe, which makes it nice and spicy, which I find even more comforting on a cold day. You can reduce the amount if you’d like it less peppery. The amount of salt in the recipe is approximate and based on the broth you use, or your personal taste (and health concerns). I use homemade, unsalted vegetable broth, so I have to add quite a bit of salt when I make soup.

I also give a range of cooking times in the recipe below. You want the vegetables to be quite soft so they’re easy to puree, and the amount of time it takes will depend on how large the pieces are. Also, I tend to forget to thaw broth ahead of time, and have to put it in the soup pot as a large, misshapen ice cube, and thawing time needs to be added to my cooking time. It all works out in the end.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a Friday night appointment with an electric blanket, a hot beverage and a good book. Stay warm, my friends!

Cream of Carrot and Parsnip Soup Recipe
This makes a huge pot of soup, but the recipe could probably be cut in half. I have also included instructions below for freezing the soup.

2 tablespoons (30ml) olive oil
½ pound (250g) chopped onion
½ pound (250g) chopped celery
1 pound (500g) chopped peeled carrot
1 pound (500g) chopped peeled parsnip
1 pound (500g) chopped peeled potato
½ cup (125ml) dry white wine, optional
1 ½ teaspoons (8ml)coarse (Kosher) salt
1 teaspoon (5ml) black pepper
6 cups (1.5 l) vegetable broth
about 10 sprigs fresh thyme
1 4-inch sprig rosemary
1 large or 2 small bay leaves
½ cup (125ml) half and half
chopped fresh parsley

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes.

2. Add the celery, carrot, parsnip and potato. (I tend to chop and add vegetables for soups like this as I go. If you are not a fast chopper, you may want to have all of the vegetables prepared before beginning the recipe.) Cook, stirring occasionally, 5-8 minutes, or until the vegetables are beginning to soften.

3. Pour in the wine. Reach down to the bottom of the pan with a spoon and scrape up any browned bits. Add the remaining teaspoon salt, pepper, and vegetable broth. Tie up the thyme and rosemary sprigs with a piece of kitchen twine. Add the thyme and rosemary bundle and the bay leaf and bring to a boil.

4. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes or until the vegetables are very soft.

5. Uncover, turn off the heat and remove the herb bundle and bay leaves. When the soup has stopped bubbling, puree it with an immersion blender until very smooth. Alternatively, puree the soup in batches with a blender or food processor. Whichever method you use, use caution, because the soup is very hot.

6. Taste the soup and add salt if needed. Stir in the half and half. Return to the heat and warm up if necessary. Serve garnished with chopped fresh parsley.

Makes at least 8 servings.

To freeze the soup, omit the half and half from the portion that you are freezing. Allow the soup to cool until it is easy to handle. Ladle it into a zip-top freezer bag or other freezer-safe container and freeze. When planning to serve, thaw the soup in the refrigerator (probably 12 to 24 hours). Heat through and add the half and half. Serve garnished with fresh parsley.

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