Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Root down.

Roasted beet and cranberry soup with pickled beet greens. © Ryan Schierling
I've been told a number of times that I could make soup out of anything. For a while, I took that as a challenge. Some days it meant mind-bendingly turning a leftover chickpea, feta and black olive salad into African peanut soup. Other days it meant making proper stock and clearing the crisper (read as: rotter) drawers of our refrigerator. Have you ever made lettuce consommé? No, you haven't, and you don't want to. Soup – as the saying goes – may be good food but it is also, occasionally, a grim test of a cook's mettle.

All of the tried-and-true classics are already in cans, so the challenge is to either make a soup can soup better, or make something that no one's thought of yet. The problem is, I did some research on the internet and apparently, everything's already been thought of already, soup or otherwise… and it's on a blog, or Facebook, or Instagram, or Pinterest, or whatever.

This information overload pushes me back toward simplicity, and sometimes that's the best thing about the massive, endless, big old stupid-head internet. I turn the computer off, scribble the first three ingredients that come to mind on a scrap of empty envelope and race to the grocery store. That's it, and it's soup. I don't need truffle oil for this, or wild game, or heirloom anything.

Now, it's winter. I want to make something that's a foil to the chill, the wind and the frost, but celebrates the meager ingredients available in this coldest of seasons. So far, we've put together potato chowder with roasted green chiles, proper Texas red, and chicken stock with chunks of onion and carrot and gently-simmered pesto-filled tortellini. All are simple, and filled with robust flavors that shine on their own.

Beets. Cranberries. Potato. This is what's in the stock pot today in our little suburban cabin. We could have added a crumble of goat cheese, a drizzle of creme fraiche, some crispy pork belly lardons or rosemary bread croutons – all would have worked well. But we kept it simple, adding just a sprinkle of pickled beet greens for color and continuity. The turkey stock and cranberries bring a little bit of Thanksgiving back, the root vegetables and cream give an earthy sweetness, and it's an otherworldly purple-red color that you just can't help but smile at. 

Roasted Beet and Cranberry Soup

6 medium beets
1 large baking potato
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
1 head garlic
1 medium white onion, roughly chopped
2 cups turkey stock
8 ounces heavy cream
salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the stems off of the beets, leaving one inch of stem, and scrub the beets thoroughly. Pierce the potato with a knife. Put the beets, garlic and potato on a foil-lined baking sheet and drizzle all with olive oil. Roast in the oven until the beets and potato are tender, about 45 minutes. At 30 minutes in, check the garlic, it will probably be soft and fragrant. Remove it from the baking sheet and set aside. Toss the cup of fresh cranberries onto the baking sheet and continue roasting for the final 15 minutes or so. When you can easily pierce the beets and potato with a knife, you're done roasting. Turn off the oven and let the beets, potato and cranberries cool.

In a stockpot, sauté the onion over medium heat in a little oil until slightly caramelized, about 15 minutes. Peel the beets and potato, and add to the stockpot. Toss in the cranberries and squeeze out the garlic cloves into the pot. Add just enough water to cover and bring to a simmer. Let cook until the beets and potato can be easily smashed with the back of a spoon. Add the turkey (or chicken) stock, a few pinches of salt, and the heavy cream. Stir well and bring back to a simmer. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until smooth. Be very careful about this last step, or you will end up with little purple speckles all over you, the countertops, cabinets and floor... lesson learned.

Adjust seasoning.

Mix 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup white vinegar in a small bowl. Rinse 6 good-sized beet greens leaves well, chiffonade, then add to vinegar and water mixture. Let soak for 20 minutes. Use as garnish for soup.

Serves 6-8. 

Quick-pickled beet greens. © Ryan Schierling

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