The truth be told, I really enjoy the colder months of the year. Living in the Pacific Northwest means that along with the change of seasons, we get a fair amount of rain, but generally I don’t mind… Although as I write this I immediately picture our close friends in warmer climates raising an eyebrow or two, knowing that I do dip into a little seasonal depression (Sharon, Stephanie, stop glaring…) from time to time. In fact, generally by the end of February I may try sticking my head in the microwave to pick up a few rays just to improve my demeanor. (Just kidding Mom. Mostly.)
From a food perspective, figuring out what exactly it is that we will eat each day in mid-winter has at times been a challenge. From late spring to the middle of autumn we have an abundance of fruits and vegetables growing in the garden and being provided through our CSA, not to mention farmer’s markets. But by the end of fall, all but one or two farmer’s markets are closed for the winter, and both our garden and our CSA have scaled back to very little. The other factor however, and maybe most important, is this:?
We are simply not in the habit of eating primarily seasonally in the winter months.
My whole life I think I’ve eaten my way through winter by consuming mostly packaged foods, some out of season fruits and vegetables?(and as a result, often less than decent), with the occasional in-season dish. That has changed this year, but it hasn’t been easy; and I must say, we sometimes slip out of the groove a little.
I think that is why, in catching up with my favorite sites and blogs, I was particularly interested in a recipe that I came across at Blue Kitchen. I have followed Blue Kitchen for a while now, however I lost track of the site in the fall. I found it again, and was thrilled to return to this article:
A handful of basic ingredients - carrots, potatoes, leeks, stock, fresh thyme and cream - proves once again that the French are masters of sublime simplicity, in this colorful, subtle soup.”
The potage described looked wonderful, and seemed like a very simple way to cook something seasonal and hearty on a cold evening.
There was only one problem: the carrots.
Our carrots have indeed been growing through the winter, weathering snow, ice, hail, rain, and temperatures in the teens, submerged below the surface. However, they have not gone unnoticed - not by moles, insects, or vermin; but by the domestic creatures in our yard. Namely, our dogs.
Our two dogs have discovered the wondrous surprise of digging up a sweet, organically grown carrot from the raised beds that we built last year. And so we are left with a lot of holes in the garden, and very few carrots left. On the upside, I suspect that their eyesight is now excellent, old wives tales notwithstanding.
In lieu of the carrots that our dogs have pilfered, we decided to use the mostly seasonal roasted vegetables my wife had prepared the night before. We had quite a bit left over, so it seemed like the roasted vegetables would make a perfect variation on the excellent recipe from Blue Kitchen. It was a good choice.
Recipe: Winter Vegetable Potage
Like the Potage Crecy recipe, this variation had one distinct quality: Balance. It was difficult to pick out any one flavor; rather, all of the flavors worked together to create a mildly sweet, hearty, velvety soup with a unique, bold taste.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter 1 tablespoon olive oil 3-4 medium-sized leeks 6 cups of roasted vegetables 3 cups chicken stock 1-1/4 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves 1 cup half-and-half fresh lemon juice, 1/2 lemon 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg salt and pepper to taste fresh thyme leaves for garnish sour cream (optional)
Roasted Vegetables: Unpeeled Delicata squash, carrots, onions, 2 whole bulbs of garlic, parsnips, red bell pepper (not exactly in season of course, but it was what we had in the refrigerator), zucchini, olive oil, salt and pepper. The vegetables are cut into roughly 1 inch pieces, tossed in olive oil in a roasting pan, and then roasted in the oven at 350 degrees for about 30-40 mins until the squash is fork tender. Let cool, and squeeze the garlic from the husks before returning to the vegetables.
Clean the leeks and chop into 3/4″ pieces. Again, Blue Kitchen has an excellent, brief discussion of the simple tricks surrounding properly cleaning leeks.
The soup: In a large soup pot or dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat and add the olive oil. Saute the leeks for about 4 minutes. Add the roasted vegetables and saute for about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally.
Add chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Add thyme, cover the pot and simmer for about 10 minutes until all vegetables are heated through. Using a blender or food processor, puree the soup.
Return the pureed soup to the pot. Add half-and-half, lemon juice and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer until just heated through.
Add the soup to soup bowls and garnish with a sprinkle of fresh thyme. Serve with some crusty bread, as you will likely want to lick the bowl - the bread accomplishes this nicely.
For the mix of roasted vegetables, we used the leftovers of what we had roasted the previous night. In my opinion there is no magic mix here, but I think the carrots were a key flavor. In the original recipe at Blue Kitchen, Terry used a good amount of potatoes. In our case, we substituted squash and parsnips as they were on hand.
The chicken stock we used was homemade. Since we bought chickens over the summer, April often uses the carcass of the whole chicken to make stock to be stored in the freezer.
We also added a small dollop of creme fraiche to the bowl pictured, but after tasting the soup we realized it was probably unnecessary.
We truly loved this soup, and are anxious to try it again. It was also a thrill to use the leeks that were still in our garden, as well as the parsnips - a vegetable that I’m not very familiar with. In general I love pureed soups, and this was no exception. Highly recommended for cold winter afternoons and evenings.