Sometimes I plan my cooking, and sometimes I just cook what's thrown at me. Case in the latter point: carrot apple soup. Things turned rather hectic around here last fall, and organization of the root cellar sort of fell by the wayside. We store our root vegetables in a large crawlspace cum dirt-floored cellar, separate from the rest of the basement. We call it "The Dungeon," kind of a creepy place, lots of spider webs, dank. But it keeps a temperature in the mid-40s through the winter, pretty much ideal.
Into this dungeon/root cellar last fall I unceremoniously shoved a couple of boxes containing potatoes, garlic and shallots, and a bin of carrots. When I needed any of these things, I would go down with a flashlight and rummage around, quickly, for the required vegetables. I don't like spending more time in there than I have to. If I wanted a carrot, I would just grab one off the top of the bin, and vamoose. At a certain point, a few weeks back, I noticed the carrots becoming kind of...grotty, I think is the word. Some were sprouting, some rotten at the core, some generally slimy. But there seemed to be a lot left, and quite a few still good, so I eventually had to screw up my courage and address the situation.
I pulled the whole bin out into daylight. I regarded it a bit askance, one eye half closed, pretty sure I was not going to like what I saw. And...
...And it wasn't that bad. I probably deserved to punished for my poor management of root cellar resources, but I dodged the bullet on this one. It took a good half hour to trim and clean up the salvageable carrots from the bin, and when I was done I'll bet I had around fifteen pounds of nice, sound, sweet carrots. And since the weather here continues soup-worthy, that is what I did.
I was afraid of the soup becoming too sweet, so I paired the carrots with some tart apples we had in storage (those are just about done, and the apple trees will soon be blooming). I had also thought to finish it with buttermilk, but the carrots were not ultra-sweet, the apple tartness really came through, and it wound up needing rounding off more than tarting up. So I stirred in a little cream at the end.
I’m not sure if it’s a positive or negative that the finished soup looks and tastes remarkably like a luxe version of Campbell’s tomato soup. The sweet carrots and tart apples create an amazing trompe-bouche tomato effect. The garnishes are inspired, if I say so myself. The carrot and shallot shreds reprise flavors already in the soup, the cheese and garlic bring different depth and richness. I'd recommend using one of the other. Both would be over the top, I think, but maybe that wouldn't be a bad thing. If you don’t want to make it fancy that way, just drop some croutons in--or crumble on some saltines.
Carrot Apple Soup
Serves four as a starter, two as a main course
1 shallot sliced
4 1/8-inch slices ginger
2 cloves garlic crushed
1 ½ teaspoons canola or grapeseed oil
3 ½ cups excellent chicken or vegetable stock
2 small tart apples, peeled, cored, and chopped (1 1/2 cups)
3 medium carrots(12 ounces), peeled and chopped (1 ½ cups)
¼ teaspoon salt
3 sprigs thyme
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup heavy cream
½ a small carrot, cut into fine shreds or grated
1 small shallot, sliced very thin
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup grated swiss or gruyere cheese
Cook the sliced shallot, ginger slices, and crushed garlic in the canola oil over medium heat until they take on a good bit of color, four to five minutes. Be careful that the garlic does not burn. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Simmer partly covered for 30 to 40 minutes. Strain the stock and discard the vegetables. You should have at least 2 ½ cups of liquid left. Add stock or water to make up the difference if too much has simmered away.
Return the stock to the saucepan. Add the carrots, apples, thyme, minced garlic and ginger, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook covered until the carrots are very tender, 40 to 45 minutes. Let the soup cool for ten minutes or so, then puree it in a blender or food processor until it is very smooth. Pass it through a sieve or food mill back into the saucepan. Add the cream, and reheat gently just before serving. Taste for salt.
For garnish #1: Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a small saucepan. Add the shredded carrots and cook until they become shrunken and a bit brown. Remove them from the oil. Add the sliced shallot and cook until lightly browned. Remove from the oil, reserving the oil. Place a spoon of the carrots on top of the soup, and a spoon of shallots on top of that. Drizzle some of the olive oil around the edges.
For garnish #2: Place a half teaspoon of minced garlic and a couple tablespoons of grated cheese in the bottom of each bowl. Place the bowls on the table, and--carefully!--ladle the very hot soup into the bowls. The aromas of garlic and cheese released by the hot soup will make your guests swoon.
Text and photos copyright 2011 by Brett Laidlaw