Sunday, December 21, 2008

A French Winter's Soup

In Traditional Chinese Medicine soup is regarded as an ideal health food--ingredients dance together in the pot making them easier to digest and more nutritious. This particular soup seems especially apropos of this concept. In it root vegetables are cut into uniform cubes and cooked together with some leeks, fennel and garlic. Served in large bowls topped with olive oil and fresh herbs, the dish is surprisingly satisfying; the fennel brings out the sweetness in the other vegetables and you end up with a soup that is both comforting and flavorful. Indeed the ingredients do seem to come together as if they had "danced" in the pot; the perfect antidote to holiday over-consumption.

The most efficient way to approach this recipe is to fill a large soup pot with about 8 cups of water, salt and a large drizzle of olive oil, then get to work chopping the vegetables, dropping them into the pot as you go. This requires fairly fast knife skills--feel free to do all your chopping ahead of time for less stressful cooking.

8 cups water
extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 medium leeks, white and pale green parts only
1 bag fingerling potatoes (about 3/4 pound)
3 to 4 medium carrots
3 medium parsnips
2 medium turnips
1 small celery root
1 small fennel bulb
2 garlic cloves
Freshly ground black pepper
A handful of parsley
1 teaspoon of fresh herbs--thyme, rosemary, whatever you have on-hand.

*Adapted from "A New Way to Cook" by Sally Schneider


1. Start with the leeks. Slice them thinly and then soak to remove dirt.

2. While the leeks soak, chop the potatoes. I used small fingerlings so I didn't have to peel them. For all the vegetables, you want to dice them into uniform pieces--around 1/4 of an inch, give or take.

3. Drop the potatoes into the pot. Then drain and rinse the leeks one more time, and add them as well.

4. Next up, carrots are peeled, diced and dropped in the pot.

Sweet carrots from the farmer's market.

5. Do the same with the parsnips, turnips and celery root.

Turnips become mellow and delicious in this soup.

6. Remove the stalks of the fennel and the tough outer layer, then chop the root into 1/4 inch dice. Drop into the pot, along with a few cloves of smashed garlic. Add pepper.

7. Allow the soup to cook about 20 more minutes, partially covered on low heat.

8. While the soup cooks, take a few handfuls of parsley and a tablespoon or two of stronger fresh herbs such as thyme or rosemary, and place them in a mortar and pestle. Smash up, then add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and salt.

9. When the soup if finished (vegetables will be tender), correct salt and pepper and then ladle into bowls. Top with a few drizzles of the herb mixture and enjoy.

Makes 6 large servings, with leftovers.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds wonderful, and it's also very similar to a soup my French mother made a lot during my childhood (minus the fennel, which I have to try). I make the same one several times each winter. Sometimes she would puree the finished soup, and she used to talk about how, as a baby, she was often fed the pureed version in a bottle, instead of milk. What I love about this soup is the surprising sweetness of the vegetables and how it tastes rich and healthy at the same time.