Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring Cleaning

Now that it’s spring (or so my Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog calendar insists) I’m increasingly tempted to cheat. Not on my taxes or on my diet (such as it is) or even at Ticket to Ride or Small World. No, instead my eyes gaze longingly at the covers of current cooking magazines and wander through the produce section of the markets. There are new things there. Pretty green things. I want to cheat on the perfectly good locally-grown foods waiting for me at home, just because they’re a little out of season.

Root vegetables and frozen corn and squash have been sitting, uncomplaining and obedient in our freezer and root cellar. Okay, so it’s not really a root cellar, just the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, but many things have kept surprisingly well there all winter. (Except for beets. Beets don’t keep. They lurk.) Despite the temptations of the flirty new spring vegetables, I manage to stay strong. There’s a lot left to enjoy before I break down and buy some asparagus that’s been trucked, flown or shipped in from Mexico, Chile, the Emerald City, or wherever things are green this time of year.

Soup seems to be a good catch-all for whatever is left, no matter what the season. It also still offers some hearty comfort when the days aren’t quite as warm as they look, or spring rains (and melts) threaten to drown your spirit (or your basement). I recently made a good soup with celeriac (aka celery root) which was waiting faithfully to be utilized, and some of the wild rice I had frozen after cooking up a bunch to make this salad.

As I was making this soup, I had The Barefoot Contessa on the TV in the other room. Ina Garten just happened to be making a celeriac remoulade and was speaking of the affinity of the celeriac for mustard. Not one to turn up my nose at such a piece of culinary serendipity, I added some dry mustard to the soup. I was thrilled by the flavor of the final product (I thrill pretty easily, I guess), and I think the mustard made the soup go even better with the Dark Rye Bread I served alongside it.

This is a pretty simple soup. To make a thicker base, I pureed half of it using an immersion blender. (It splattered quite a bit, but that’s what the apron is for!) You could also use a regular blender. Just be careful when pureeing the hot soup. I find it works well to remove the little insert in the top of the blender lid and cover the resulting opening with a folded-up towel while blending. This seems to help keep explosions to a minimum. (The apron can only do so much.)

As I clean out my refrigerator, freezer and cupboards (there’s plenty of stocked-up dried beans and grains, too), I’ll try not to post much that really clashes with the spring season (pumpkin pie for Easter, anyone?) If you’re really eager for springtime fare, I’ve added a new link to the sidebar titled “Favorite Spring Recipes.” It will take you to another set of links to Messy Apron posts containing some of my favorite spring recipes. Happy Spring, whatever you’re eating!

Celeriac, Potato and Wild Rice Soup
Based on a recipe in Cooking Light magazine

I used a homemade vegetable broth for this soup, but you could use canned broth, or chicken broth if it is more convenient.

2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
½ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt, plus more if desired
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dry mustard
½ cup finely chopped carrot
1 medium celeriac (about ¾ pound untrimmed weight), finely chopped
¼ pound potatoes, peeled and finely chopped
4 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons half and half
1 cup cooked wild rice

1. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and ½ teaspoon salt. Saute 3 minutes, or until onion is beginning to soften and turn translucent. Stir in the garlic, pepper and dry mustard. Cook about 1 minute more.

2. Stir in the carrot, celeriac and potatoes. Add the vegetable broth and white wine vinegar. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and cook about 30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

3. Remove the pot from the heat. Spoon about half of the soup into a bowl (if using an immersion blender) or into a blender container. If using an immersion blender, blend the soup remaining in the pot until well-pureed. If using a conventional blender, blend the removed portion of the soup until well-pureed.

4. Carefully pour the removed soup back into the pot. Stir in the half and half and the wild rice. Taste the soup for salt and add more if desired. Return the pot to the heat to warm through if needed.

Makes about 6 servings.

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