I love recipes I can make from whatever I have on hand, like this Rustic Root Vegetable Soup. It is made from refrigerator staples: long-keeping root vegetables – leeks, potatoes, celery root and parsnips – that retain their flavor and texture for weeks. Check out Maria Robledo’s still-life photographs to see just how beautiful and curiously-inspiring they can be.
This basic soup is modeled after rustic Provencal vegetable soups which are traditionally cooked with water, rather than broth, and a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Simmering vegetables in a mixture of fat and liquid suffuses them with an extraordinary creaminess, and gives the broth body and richness for little work. You can make it with just about any winter vegetables you have on hand. It is the ideal cold weather soup for days when you don’t want to leave the house.
Use this basic model to fashion all kinds of rustic soups, simply by playing with the essential elements.
You can shift the proportion of vegetables to increase the sweet spiciness with more parsnips, or the savory onionyness with more leeks and so on; other options include carrots, parsley root, rutabaga and turnips, in any combination as long as the total is about 3 1/2 cups. For a gutsier soup, instead of olive oil or butter, render chopped smoky bacon or pancetta in the pan before adding vegetables and water. When I am only using a few kinds of vegetables, as in this version, I use chicken broth instead of water to insure a well-flavored soup.
Once the soup is made, you can add all kinds of embellishments: cooked dried beans or shell pasta, shredded chicken or pork – Chinese restaurant roasted duck is marvelous – chopped raw greens such as swiss chard or escarole, and so on. You can also garnish the soup with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, a herb-flavored olive oil, or shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. A few slivers of lemon zest make for a lively surprise.
Recipe: Rustic Root Vegetable Soup
Consider this recipe a rough formula for improvising soups with all manner of vegetables.
The soup will keep about 4 days covered in the refrigerator, and only gets better.
Serves about four; can be scaled up indefinitely
1 medium yellow or red waxy potato (6 to 7 ounces), peeled, quartered and thinly-sliced crosswise (about 1 1/4 cups)
1 small celery root (7 to 8 ounces) quartered and thinly sliced crosswise (3/4 cup)
1 medium leek, white and pale green part only, thinly sliced (1/2 cup)
2 medium parsnips, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise (1/2 cup)
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, unsalted butter, or rendered bacon fat
3/4 cups water
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth or water
Freshly ground white pepper
1/4 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
In a medium saucepan, combine the potato, celery root, leek, parsnip, garlic, salt, sugar, olive oil and 3/4 cup water. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook 15 minutes until the water has almost evaporated.
Add the remaining liquid, bring back to a simmer, cover, and cook and additional 15 minutes until the vegetables are soft.
Adjust the seasoning. Just before serving, stir in the parsley.