Okay, I know I need to end my streak of LA Times recipes (I think it's been seven in a row now, and my NY Times recipes are looking at me pitifully, wondering why I've been ignoring them), but before I do, I have another hit to tell you about. Though I suspect you're starting to wonder why you need me to tell you that Russ Parsons' recipes are ridiculously good. You absolutely don't. It should go without saying. In fact, at this point Russ might start to feel uncomfortable if I start raving yet again. But I can't help it! He's that good.
And this soup? Oh yes, that too.
First of all, it'll make you buy a rutabaga! Which, if you're anything like me, is kind of exciting. I don't believe I've ever bought a rutabaga before (and incidentally, those of you who buy rutabaga on a semi-regular basis, what's the deal with the waxy coating all over that homely root?). Furthermore, it'll help clean up your kitchen by using up those two stray carrots languishing in your fridge, and that scant cup of lentils gathering dust in the cupboards, and the last, lonely onion in its lovely little basket.
The soup, which simmers together parsnips and carrots and leeks and rutabaga (rutabaga!) into a thick, sweet, fragrant stew, is completely delicious. All those differing strong flavors break down and fuse together into a rich amalgam that is totally vegetarian, yet has real body and character. Thin, soft strips of cabbage and chewy little lentils round out the textural components. A spoonful of vinegar brightens what could end up a somewhat muddy soup into a dinner that truly shines. As Russ says, all you need is a slice of good Gruyere and some bread to turn this into a fantastic, warming meal.
Which is what we did tonight. And it was perfect. Thank you, Russ, once again. Your food keeps us happy.
Minestra of Root Vegetables
2 tablespoons butter (I used olive oil)
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
2 parsnips, coarsely chopped
1 rutabaga, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 big sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound Savoy cabbage
2/3 cup French green lentils
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar, or more, to taste
1. Trim the tough green tops of the leeks, leaving only the white stalk behind. Cut each stalk in quarters lengthwise, cutting down to but not through the root end. Rinse well under cold running water, separating the layers of the leeks to get rid of any dirt that might be hiding there. Thinly slice both leeks crosswise.
2. Melt the butterin a heavy 4- to 6- quart soup pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions and cook until just softened, about 3 minutes. Add the leeks, carrots, parsnips and rutabaga, cover tightly and cook gently until the vegetables are bright in color, beginning to soften and become aromatic, about 5 minutes. The vegetables do not need to be added all at once; you can chop them one at a time (they should be chopped to about the same size) and add them to the pot as you go along. Add the garlic and cook about 2 to 3 minutes, until fragrant.
3. Place the thyme sprigs in the center of the bay leaf and fold the bay leaf around them. Tie with string to hold together in a packet. Or you can fold the bay and thyme in a square of cheesecloth and tie it closed. Add the herb packet to the soup and cook for a minute or two.
4. Add 8 cups of water, 2 teaspoons of salt and a generous grinding of black pepper. Raise the heat and bring to a simmer. Partially cover the pot, leaving the lid ajar, and reduce the heat to maintain a sprightly simmer. The liquid should be bubbling quickly, but not boiling
5. Cook until the vegetables have softened and their flavors have married, about 1 hour. You should not taste any individual vegetable, but a more complex combination of all of them.
6. Cut the cabbage in lengthwise quarters and cut out the solid core. Cut each quarter in half lengthwise and then slice it about one-fourth to one-half inch thick. When the soup vegetables are cooked, add the cabbage to the pot and gently stir it in. Continue to simmer until the cabbage is silky and sweet, about 30 minutes.
7. While the soup is cooking, in a separate medium saucepan, bring 6 cups of water and 1 tablespoon salt to a rolling boil. Add the lentils, reduce the heat to a simmer and, with the cover slightly ajar, cook until they are tender, about 45 minutes. Drain and set aside.
8. When you are almost ready to serve, remove the bay leaf bundle from the soup. Raise the heat under the soup to a faster simmer and add the lentils. Stir gently to avoid breaking up the root vegetables. Stir in the vinegar and let the soup cook another minute or two to lose the raw smell. Season with a generous grinding of black pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt, pepper or vinegar as needed, then ladle the soup into warm bowls. Serve immediately.