November 11, 2010

soup time: celeriac and leek soup

It all started a few weeks ago. When temperatures started dropping, I was moved to buy practically every soup-worthy vegetable they had at the market: the usual suspects of leeks, carrots, celery, potatoes and onions, but also celeriac, butternut squash, parsnips and fennel. Thus passed a week of soup where we ate soup for lunch and soup for dinner, from celeriac/leek soup to fennel/carrot to potato/leek soup to onion/potato chowder to butternut squash/fennel/carrot. 

haul from the market

As my allegiance lies with brothy, full-flavored soups with lots of noodles, I never would have guessed that I would happily eat a week's worth of pureed vegetable soups. For years, my (very negative) conception of pureed vegetable soups was based on dinner at a friend's house: I was in 6th grade, I was about to eat my first tuna fish sandwich ever and, with it, I was offered a choice of Campbell's tomato soup or cream of mushroom. One taste of each solidified my feelings about "American" "vegetable" soups for the next decade or so (though my friend also introduced me to tuna sandwiches, which I like, so we're even stevens).

This explains why, for years, I completely ignored that entire genre of soups. And then, last year, I suddenly changed my mind -- all it took was a boring sick day, when the refrigerator held nothing but grapefruit juice, a container of homemade chicken stock, a leek and a few potatoes on the verge of turning green. To my surprise, I liked leek potato soup. Who knew that vegetable soup didn't have to assault your tongue with salt and weird, fakey sweetness a la Campbell's?

Ever since then, I've been making up for lost time. There is something undeniably great about being able to make a soup from a few vegetables, some aromatics and a little liquid in 45 minutes or so. (Compare that to the chicken pho broth I simmered for 4 hours this weekend for my sick Mark.) One of our favorites is celeriac soup. Celeriac (also called celery root) may look a little intimidating, all knobby and bumpy, but when all is said and done, the ivory flesh makes a delicately flavored soup. It tastes similar to celery, but without the  assertive bite that old celery sometimes has. Thank goodness I wised up. Nice try, Campbell's.

celeriac soup

Celeriac and leek soup

This is more of an adaptable method than a recipe -- I use the same basic method for all sorts of different kinds of vegetable soups. Feel free to experiment based on what you have in your pantry. For example, when I ran out of butter, I used all olive oil; when I had no chicken broth, I used water. Regarding the liquid called for, my preference is for equal parts of chicken broth and water, but a light vegetable stock is  nice too. 

Celeriac, sometimes called celery root, is gnarly looking: knobby, covered in whiskers and sometimes dirt. Choose one that feels firm, not mushy or spongy. To prepare the celeriac, I use a sharp paring knife to cut off all the outer flesh but, next time, I might try this method. Peel it like a pineapple; genius! As for the leeks, the easiest way to clean them is to chop off the green parts (set aside for stock) and slice the remaining stem in half lengthwise. Rinse very thoroughly under running water to remove any remaining dirt. Thinly slice. If you're not sure that you've removed all the dirt, the easiest way to do so is to dump them in a sieve and run them under water again. See here.

2-4 tablespoons butter or olive oil, or a combination (for a richer soup, use 2 TB of each; for a diet-friendly soup, you can reduce the fats) 
2 large leeks or 3 small leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large celeriac or 2 small (3 pounds or so), peeled and cubed
6 cups of liquid, such as light chicken broth, water, vegetable stock or a combination (see note above)
salt and pepper, to taste

1. In a soup pot, heat the butter and olive oil over low to medium heat. Add the leeks and cook until soft and translucent, 5-7 minutes, without browning. Add the garlic and a big pinch of kosher salt. Cook another minute, again without browning.

2. Add the cubed celeriac, along with the liquid and another pinch of salt, and bring soup to a boil. Once the soup is boiling, cover and simmer until very tender, 40 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. If the celeriac is not completely tender, it will not puree smoothly, so test it using a knife. A knife should pierce it easily. 

3. Blend the soup, using either a blender or an immersion blender. Keep in mind that it is safest to let the soup cool before blending. (I get the smoothest texture in a blender, but I used an immersion blender to make the pictured soup. I don't mind a slightly chunky texture, plus I find it easier to clean the immersion blender. Do whatever you like.) Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, as necessary. If you are using unseasoned chicken broth or water only, it is important to season the soup adequately. If the texture is too thick, add a little more liquid to thin the soup.

4. To serve, rewarm the soup until steaming. See garnish/finishing ideas below.

Ideas for last-minute finishes:
4-5 tablespoons milk, stirred into the pot
a drizzle of good olive oil, on each serving
a dollop of creme fraiche, on each serving
a healthy dusting of paprika or cayenne pepper, on each serving


Lan Jones said...

Hello Kim,
I love looking at the contrasting of colors and shape of these versatile root vegetables. Anyhow, yum!yum!yum! Thanks for the tips.

Lauren said...

Your first positive experience was with potato leek soup? A.k.a. vichyssoise? It was bound to please you, Frenchie.

Lauren said...

Oh, and I agree that Campbell's cream of mushroom soup is pretty gross. I even pretty much despise that icky green bean casserole everyone serves at Thanksgiving. No thank you.

Amy said...

I'll have to try it. Celery root just looks so messy to clean.

Also agree with Lauren about green bean casserole. I hate to sound like a petulant 6 year old, but ew.

Laura J. said...

I LOVE celeriac soup and so does my 6 year old. The flavor is so nice. And it freezes well, try it!