Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Give me your ugly, your lumpy, your misshapen...

Root vegetable-creamed linguini with bacon and parsley. © Ryan Schierling
…and I will make soup of them. Now, I realize you might be thinking "Wait a minute. That's not a picture of soup at all, it looks like some creamy, cheese-drenched pasta with bacon on it." You would be partially correct. It is not soup.

But it was.

Some of the best soups in my repertoire are straight from Crescent Dragonwagon's Dairy Hollow House Soup & Bread Cookbook. Her Spanish-style split pea is one of my all-time favorites, and along with Hungarian Green Bean and Potato, and Cuban Black Bean, I could easily be soup-satiated all winter long. Problem is, there hasn't really been a winter this year in Austin. Sure, it's dipped into the 30s for a day or two, but most of January we enjoyed mild 70-degree days. While our friends in Seattle were getting eight inches of snow last week, we were wearing t-shirts and flip-flops, harvesting lettuce and spinach from our garden. But this month's Snowmageddon in the Pacific Northwest made me remember another Seattle snow day... oh, way back in January of ought-seven.

"With flurries predicted for the following day, I made a list before I went to bed.

"Things to do if it snows."

1. Sleep in
2. Coffee
3. Walk to Pike Place Mkt
4. Eat a cabbage & carrot piroshky
5. Get root vegetables
6. Make soup
7. Work on prints
8. Nap

The weather brilliantly obliged the forecast, and the Emerald City was draped in a soft, glistening blanket of white that slowed the city to a crawl. It was definitely soup-making weather, and I was going for Deep December Cream of Root Soup."

It got a little chilly in Austin this week, so I thought I'd try it out again. The wonderful thing about this recipe, is that as delicious as it is the first go-around, it doesn't have to be leftover soup. This time, the day after I made it, I took the thickened batch from the refrigerator and warmed it gently over low heat. I put a pot on to boil water for linguine, and cooked a few pieces of peppered bacon in a skillet. Once the pasta was al dente, I pulled it out of the pot with tongs and tossed it straight into the soup, stirring gently. The soup, now a sauce, looked to be about the thickness of a nice alfredo. I added a bit of pasta water to get the consistency right and plated it with a toss of bacon crumbles and some roughly-chopped flat-leaf parsley.

The end result was actually better than the cream of root vegetable soup we'd eaten the day prior. The soup flavors had harmonized overnight in the fridge, lending a sweet, earthy, creaminess to the pasta, which looked like it had actually been run through a rich, cheesy sauce. The crumbled peppered bacon was a perfect texture and flavor foil to the pasta, adding crunch with a salt and pepper bite. (I crumbled Morningstar faux bacon on Julie's pasta.) The parsley gave a brightness and a pretty contrasting color. It was by far the best leftover soup I'd ever had.

I did deviate from the Soup & Bread original recipe in a few ways. I did not use chicken stock or vegetable stock for the cooking liquid. Water is just fine and lets the pure flavors of the root vegetables come through brilliantly. I did not strain the stock, separate and purée the vegetables in a food processor and then return them to the stock. I just used the immersion blender on the whole batch of soup and puréed it until it was completely smooth and creamy. 

(L) Ugly. (R) Not ugly. © Ryan Schierling

Cream of Root Vegetable (adapted from Crescent Dragonwagon's "Deep December Cream of Root Soup)

4 small beets
1 small sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 small russet potato, peeled and chopped
2 turnips, peeled and chopped
1 rutabaga, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped 
3 parsnips, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tbs. butter
vegetable oil
8 cups water
salt and white pepper, to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

(Note: If you are planning on using this soup/sauce for pasta only, beets are not required and you can skip this next section and proceed to the soup/sauce recipe.)

Soup garnish

Preheat the oven to 350-degrees. Scrub the beets, dry them and place onto a large piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle with vegetable oil, seal up the foil and bake until tender, about 1 hour. Unwrap and let stand until cool enough to handle. Slide the skins off the beets. Place beets into a food processor and puree them until they are smooth and thick. Add 1 to 4 tablespoons of water to make the beets a purée rather than a thick paste. Add a pinch of salt, then pour it through a funnel into a squeeze bottle. This is your fancy soup garnish, set it aside.


In a heavy stock pot over medium heat, add two tablespoons of butter and sauté the onion until it starts to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, parsnips, carrots and sauté another 5 minutes, stirring often. Add 8 cups water and bring to a boil. Add the potato and sweet potato, reduce heat to a simmer and let cook for 15-20 minutes. Add the rutabaga and and turnips, simmer for another 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat.

Add a few good two-finger pinches of kosher salt. Using an immersion blender (stick blender, boat motor, whatever you like to call yours), blend the soup in the stock pot until it is smooth and thick. (If you don't have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender. Just be careful when you're transferring hot liquid back and forth.) Add the milk and heavy whipping cream, reheat gently, adding freshly-cracked white pepper and the nutmeg. Blend again, if you like, to make sure the soup/sauce is completely smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.

Serve with a crusty loaf of good bread.

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