This soup needs a name that expresses the velvet texture and the surprisingly rich yet fresh celeriac top notes that belie its humble and earthy origins. I discovered this preparation in A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider (Artisan Press 2001). It’s endlessly flexible, based on what root vegetables you have in the house. I’ve made a sweeter, orangey version using carrots or sweet potatoes. Onions and shallots can sub for leeks, fresh herbs like rosemary or sorrel work well. But to me the vegetable that makes this soup unique and intriguing is the celeriac. Without it it’s just a very good puree of root vegetable soup. Which in itself is not a bad thing.
In April, I’ve prepared the basic soup using ramps instead of leeks, pureed it to a pale creamy green then at the end tossed in a cup of just picked slivered asparagus to barely steam before serving.
The first step involves intensifying the flavors through braising the diced vegetables with a little butter and a little water. The soup finishes with additional broth, then is pureed. The texture is creamy and luscious, without the addition of any cream products. You can finish with a dollop of crème fraiche or a crumble of crispy proscuitto, fried sage or homemade garlic croutons.
For New Year’s, I’ll offer this crema as a first course, with bite-sized chunks of butter poached lobster mounded in the middle.
Can easily be doubled
2 T sweet butter
1 medium celeriac (celery root) (about 1 c diced)
1 leek, white part and a small portion of the light green
3/4 to 1 c diced red bliss or Yukon gold potato
1 stem of thyme
1 bay leaf
4 c homemade low salt chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Approx 35 min cooking time
To make the soup:
Take no shortcuts when peeling the vegetables for this soup. The creamy and fine texture demands it.
Wash the leek – cut partway down through the green portion to thoroughly rinse the inner layers. Cut parsnips in half lengthwise and remove the woody core, dice. Peel and dice the celeriac, peel and cut potatoes into 8ths.
In a large soup pot set on a medium flame, melt 2 T butter or add olive oil, add leeks, stir to coat and cook 3- 5 minutes until wilted. Then add all the vegetables and thyme. Stir to coat, add ½ c water and cover. Allow to steam on Medium-low for 10 – 15 minutes or until the vegetable are beginning to soften, water will be mostly evaporated. Add 4 c chicken stock, bay leaf. Cover again and turn down heat to low, simmer for 20 minutes.
Turn the burner off. Carefully remove any whole herbs. Use a standing blender working in batches for the smoothest texture, puree soup until very smooth. You can use an immersion blender; afterwards you may want to strain the soup into another saucepan. Salt and pepper to taste. Shave in a dash of fresh nutmeg. Return to heat if needed.
Serve crema in a warmed wide bowl with freshly made croutons on the side for dipping or crumbled into the soup. You might drop a teaspoon of crème fraiche into the middle of each bowl, swirl with the tip of a spoon for a decorative finish.