Here in the last few weeks of winter it's hard to imagine that we can support our local farmers, but with several farmers markets open year-round around the state, it's possible to do just that. This is the season of the root vegetable, the heartiest and most die-hard of Maryland produce, the food that just keeps on giving. And Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Schola Cooking School will tell you, perhaps one of the best ways to enjoy winter root vegetables is in a root vegetable soup.
Just to be clear what we're talking about, root vegetables are a category of produce that comes to market during the winter months, and are notable for their duarability. Some truly do grow underground, others are fruit of the vine. These include: sweet potatoes, white potatoes, carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips, rutabaga, leeks, butternut squash and other winter squashes, and that gnarly old thing, celery root. And of course you'll want to use onions of all kinds.
There are also several other ingredients that make their way into a lot of these soups: dried beans, lentils, garlic, cut up sausage, pasta, winter greens like kale and mustard green, croutons, and rice.
Broths of all kinds are welcome, as is cream, full-flavored wines, beer and vegetable juice. The point is to use the broth as a vehicle for all the different flavors you'll want to incorporate.
Textures are simple: winter soups seem to either be chunky or puréed. A chunky approach will give you lots of individual flavors, depending on the bite. A purée will blend the flavors into a tasty mélange that you are free to doctor up as you choose.
One other thing a lot of recipes have in common is this: roast your vegetables first, then toss them into the kettle. So let's look at a couple good winters soup recipes.
Creamy Roasted Beet Soup (Inspired by Epicurious)
4 medium beets, washed and trimmed
1 tbs butter
1 tbs olive oil
1 leek, (trimmed, white and pale green parts only) chopped coarsely
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp ground pepper
2 cups water
1 small bay leaf
1 or 2 sprigs of fresh thyme and parsley
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
sour cream or crème fraîche for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Wrap beets in foil and roast until tender when pierced with fork, about 1 hour. Cool. Peel beets. Cut 1/4 of 1 beet into 1/4-inch cubes; reserve for garnish. Cut remaining beets into 1/2-inch pieces.
2. Melt butter with oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add leek, onion, and celery and cook until beginning to brown, stirring frequently, about 13 minutes.
3. Stir in ginger, allspice, white pepper, and 1/2-inch beet pieces. Cook until vegetables begin to stick to bottom of pot, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes. Add 2 cups water, bay leaf, thyme sprig, and parsley sprig. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 25 minutes.
4. Remove the bay leaf and the sprigs. Allow the soup to cool slightly. Add the cream and using a submersible blender, purée until very smooth. Adjust seasoning to taste.
5. Serve warm, not hot. Garnish soup with dollops of crème fraîche and sprinkle the small beet cubes.
Here's a recipe for a chunky root vegetable soup that touches all the bases.
Winter Vegetable Soup
Peeled and cut into chunks: 1 rutabaga, 1 large carrot, 1 medium parsnip,
1 yellow onion
2 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 tbs olive oil
2 pints vegetable stock
1 18 ounce can of garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 half cup of cooked red lentils
1/4 cup shredded kale
salt and pepper
rice vinegar to taste
1. Pre-heat oven to 400°. Put cut up vegetables into a baking dish, along with garlic and rosemary. Toss with olive oil. Roast for about 35 minutes, until charring starts.
2. Transfer the vegetables to a large heavy sauce pan. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Upon boiling, reduce heat to a simmer, add the garbanzo beans and lentils.
Simmer for another 30 minutes.
3. Add in the shredded kale and blend it in. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Brighten the broth with a teaspoon or so of rice vinegar.