Sunday, November 21, 2010

Seasonal Soupage: Potato-Shallot-Sorrel

I "tweeted" recently that I was a-fixin' ta put some fine fresh root vegetables, picked up from some of our Bide-A-Wee neighbors, together in a soup with "snow-kissed" sorrel from our garden. When I came to examine the sorrel bed, I found that I was guilty of a bit of food-blogger poetic license. "Snow-kissed" turned out to be more a case of "glacially-encased." I pried back the lid of crusted snow to reveal the beautiful bed of green above. What about that does not make one think of spring--except the snow, I mean...? In fact sorrel, a hardy perennial related to rhubarb, is at its best in early spring and late fall. It's one of the first plants to emerge in the spring, and then its young leaves add delightful zing to salads.

Through the summer it grows tall and leggy, bolts at a sidewise glance. I cut back the flower heads when I think of it, but that's a purely cosmetic operation. Whether you deadhead or not, when the cold weather comes in, sorrel comes back in style. It's a classic in rich sauces for fish, like this one I made with brown trout. It's also lovely paired with starchy things in soup. After a few frosts the leaves of sorrel become more tender, and also more tart, it seems to me, its lemony quality pronounced. Yet it's a delicate, vegetal acidity these autumn leaves impart. I'm not even sure if you can find sorrel reliably in the stores. This would be another gardener's dish, or friend-of-the-gardener's. Ask around if you don't grow it and can't find it. It grows abundantly, and a little goes a long way, and any sorrel aficionado you find will surely be eager to share.

You could substitute watercress for the sorrel--a different, but kindred taste and concept.

Oh, and the source of all the great roots we picked up last weekend--carrots, parsnips, and potatoes from Kay and Ric in Prairie Farm, shallots, fingerling potatoes, and garlic from Evan near Turtle Lake, gorgeous braids of shallots and onions, and more potatoes, from Morgan and Ben, west of Ridgeland--we found these folks (some of whom it turned out we already knew)through the Hay River Transition Initiative, a fantastic group of people keeping the western Wisconsin countryside alive and lively. As part-time rural residents, we haven't done much with this group yet, but we're really looking forward to getting more involved in the future. It's the sort of grass-roots effort that really gives one hope.

A delicious bowl of soup is another thing that bucks me up:

Sorrel-Shallot-Potato Soup
Serves two

2 shallots, each the size of a small egg, chopped fine
2 large cloves garlic, sliced thin
12 ounces waxy potatoes (two medium), peeled, quartered, sliced 1/2-inch thick
2 Tbsp (1 oz.) unsalted butter
2 cups unsalted chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 whole clove
1 small allspice berry
1 small bay leaf
6 whole black peppercorns
1 small bunch sorrel leaves (about 3 oucnes), thick stems removed, chopped (about 2 cups chopped)—hold back a few leaves to chiffonade for garnish
1 small carrot, shredded very fine or grated, for garnish, optional

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat, and add the chopped shallots and a pinch of salt. Cook gently, without browning, until they shrink and become translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 3 minutes more. Add the stock, the sliced potatoes, the spices, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, and simmer gently for 30 minutes, until the potatoes are very tender—falling apart somewhat, not totally disintegrated.

The soup can be made to this point several days in advance. Just before serving, bring the soup to the simmer, add the chopped sorrel, and simmer for 10 minutes. Taste for salt. Serve garnished with the reserved sorrel chiffonade, and the carrots if you like.

Note: Mary didn't care for the raw carrot garnish, but I did.

This kind of soup often gets a creamy finish, and a swirl of heavy cream, dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche certainly wouldn't hurt. But this au naturel version would be my preference when you've got really good potatoes and homemade stock.


el said...

Somewhere in my head is an Ode to Sorrel. I believe the main reason it is not sold is it cannot be kept for long off the plant. This is fine by me; as you said, it grows well, perennially. And prettily.

That soup looks great.

Trout Caviar said...

Sorrel is a hard leaf to pin down--is it salad green, vegetable, herb?--but I love having it in the garden. And of course, it seems particularly French to me, giving it added cachet.

I eagerly await publication of your "Ode to Sorrel," El. I expect it will brighten a dim winter day, soon.


Sylvie in Rappahannock said...

Love sorrel here as you can imagine. I have planted it in several patches in the garden, and despite the heat and drought conditions this past summer, one patch in a moist relatively shady spot was thriving throughout the summer. Made me very happy.

I never though of adding spices to a sorrel soup. DUH!!!! Will have to try of course!

Trout Caviar said...

Hi Sylvie: Thank you for noticing my little inspiration in the spicing of the soup. The clove and allspice came through, but subtly, and really gave the aroma and flavor a lift.

Glad to hear your sorrel plant survived the hot summer--where you are, I'll bet you can pick it all year?

Salut~ Brett

Sylvie in Rappahannock said...

In winter I can pick only from what's in the hoophouse or coldframe. I can still harvest it from the outside plants now but won't in a few weeks. I will let you know that we can have (and have had) 0 degree FAHRENHEIT here!!! Sorrel starts showing its green furled leaves again in mid to late march in the outside garden. During most of the summer, unless you provide shade and moisture, you really can't pick.

Bonne Journee de Merci Donnant!