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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Aromatic Carrot Soup

+ Copper Pennies:

I watched "Billy Elliot" for the first time yesterday. I don't know what I was expecting, but I don't think crying until you laugh at yourself, and your less than British humor, was one of them. What can I say, I have a real affinity for homely, precious things that get notoriously hard knocks for just being themselves: prunes, Italian greyhounds, that disastrously misunderstood monster Grendel and, in today's case, the gnarled carrots you always seem to leave as a last resort in your vegetable keeper (baby carrots have all the fun). Maybe that is why I love this superbly easy, and delicious, carrot soup with crumbles of goat cheese. Did your heart just skip a beat too?

When it comes to homely edibles, one of my greatest weaknesses, Thanksgiving dinner really takes the cake (er, pie). Carrots are some of the most misunderstood, and most affordable, vegetables in the kitchen. Who says they are only good for stocks or picket-lining around ranch dip? It is time for the carrot to take a stand, and at only a few dollars this recipe is the perfect time and place. Throw in some affordable goat cheese, or sour cream/plain yogurt if you're in a penny-pinching mood, and you've got a great weeknight dinner or an impressive side dish for under $10. And while not traditional, this soup is the perfect starter or chic appetizer for your harvest dinner. Yesterday, I had the hankering to serve it in some tall shot glasses as an easy to eat appetizer before dinner. I don't know what it is, but there is something wonderful about turning knotty, scrubby carrots into a velvety soup that looks so "Top Chef" in a shot glass. I guess we can call it the Cinderella effect. With only ten minutes of preparation, and twenty unattended minutes of cooking time, this soup can be made before dinner and served warm, or prepared the night before and reheated just before serving. The cumin, an affordable multipurpose spice, is subtle and blends perfectly with the little bit of honey that enhances the natural sweetness of even the most stubborn carrot. Using a reduced sodium vegetable broth (or your very own) to make this vegetarian option as healthy as it is delicious.

For a more traditional side dish, go no further than the "copper pennies", or glazed carrots, you might have seen at your dining hall. These are a sure winner for your holiday table-even friends who are sworn-off vegetables dig into these. A little less exotic than Aromatic Carrot soup, but just as wholesome "copper pennies" are a traditional harvest side. Plus this dish rings in at about $3-4. The trick? No one likes a mushy carrot. I like to prepare this dish just before serving to ensure the carrots don't get overcooked being reheated. But, if you're looking to save some time peel and chop your carrots the night before; it will take under a minute to toss them in a little butter, honey and cinnamon once they are cooked.

Notes: Treat your vegetables like you would pasta: aim to serve them "al dente". Not only will the vegetable retain a vibrant healthy color but they won't turn to mush either. When making up a harvest menu think about texture and color as much as flavor. If you plan on serving this carrot soup, for example, serving whipped sweet potatoes might be a little uninteresting since both have a soft, delicately sweet flavor and, well, they look alike too. Try a scalloped white potato that differs in color, taste and texture from this semi-sweet soup instead. That said, I've never turned down a sweet potato in my life.

The bottom line: for the most "wow" factor, make your harvest table as colorful and interesting as possible.

Aromatic Carrot Soup
Bon Appetit, April 2010 (serves 4 as a side), more as an appetizer

2 tablespoons butter
salt, pepper
1 cup diced onion (one large)
2 2/3 cup peeled, chopped carrots
2 1/2 cups (vegetable or chicken) broth
1 tablespoon honey
1/8 teaspoon all-spice
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1. Melt the butter in a pot. Add the diced onion and cracked black pepper and stir, cooking for 3-4 minutes.
2. Add the carrots to the onions and stir. Pour in the 2 1/2 cups of broth and bring to a boil.
3. Cook the carrots and onions in the broth for 20 minutes.
4. Remove the broth mixture from the heat and allow it to come to room temperature. When the broth has cooled add it in batches to a blender. Puree until smooth.
5. Return the soup to the pot, adding remaining honey, all-spice, lemon juice and cumin. Taste for seasonings, adding salt and pepper as necessary.
6. Serve warm or chilled with goat cheese crumbles or a spoonful of sour cream. Can be made up to two days in advance (without garnish). Keeps well in the refrigerator.

Copper Pennies
Serves 4

3 cups carrots, sliced
3-4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons honey
orange peel, (optional)

1. Peel and slice the carrots on a bias. Add to a sauce pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
2. Boil the carrots for 2-3 minutes or until they are just fork tender.
3. Drain the carrots and set aside. Melt the butter, honey and cinnamon in the same pot. Stir until it is combined.
4. Return the carrots to the pot, turning gently to coat in the butter mixture. Serve immediately with the zest of an orange.

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