A week in Berlin with my mother ensured that I got my requisite amount of fresh vegetables after being stuck, for the previous week, in a smoke-filled, sunless convention center where Wuerstchen and chocolate bars were the standard fare. But after returning from Berlin this past weekend, I've found that I'm still craving vegetables, especially ones that are transformed into silky, warm versions of themselves. Ah, fall. I'm so glad to see you.
While I was gone, quite a few appealing recipes were published - Garlic sausages with braised lentils! Monkfish-mussel-chorizo stew! Salted caramel mousses! - but for some reason I found myself gravitating towards this simple soup that Celia Barbour touted as her go-to winter fare. I left out the dill because I am not a fan of that feathery, frondy business: it always reminds of a traumatizing moment at the dinner table when I was a child and my father was going through an obsessive Hungarian phase, learning the language and the cuisine, and he made a veal stew that was flecked through and through with those fussy bits of dill and although, when I took a piece in my mouth, my throat just closed up and would not let that veal piece pass, my father insisted that I eat at least four pieces (like he made me do with Brussels sprouts, which I have to come to love, but the same just will not happen with dill, don't even try to convince me of it) and so I had to obey, with tears in my eyes, and yuck, by God, now that I am the master of my own domain, I will not eat the stuff, no way, no how, no sir.
But otherwise, I hacked and chopped and diced away at my pile of fall vegetables (though I have by no means mastered Knife Skills 101 and could care less, really, about the cubed uniformity of root vegetables in soups) and then cooked them into a shockingly bright mixture that miraculously didn't ruin a single article of clothing (I actually debated cooking with no top on, but decided against it... I do have roommates, after all). I put only half of the orange peel and orange juice in the soup, which was the right thing, for my palate at least - the soup is sweet enough with all those beets and tomatoes and butter. In fact, I think lemon juice might have been a better brightener.
Ben and I ate this for dinner (mine topped with plain yogurt, his unadorned) with toasted brown bread and found it a pleasing meal. It's wholesome and nourishing and that color certainly goes a long way towards the whole eating-with-your-eyes business. It won't go in my hall of fame of soups because it lacked something (beans? potatoes? parsley? I don't know) that would immortalize it. And that name, to be honest, sort of gets my goat. But it hit the spot last night, and that is, sometimes, enough.
Yields 6 servings
6 tablespoons butter or 3 tablespoons butter and 3 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium onions, chopped into ½-inch pieces
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 small beets, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
4 to 5 medium carrots, cut into ½- inch dice
4 stalks celery, cut into ½-inch pieces
½ medium celery root, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
¾ cup chopped dill
2 quarts beef or chicken stock
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes with their juice
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sour cream, for garnish
Dark whole wheat sour bread or other hearty bread, for serving
1. Place flameproof casserole or other deep, wide pan over low heat and add butter or butter-oil mixture. When butter has melted, add onion and garlic; sauté until soft but not browned.
2. Increase heat to medium-high and add beets, carrots, celery, celery root and half the dill. Sauté, adjusting heat as needed, until vegetables have released their liquid, dried and start to turn golden but not brown, about 20 minutes.
3. Add stock and tomatoes with their juice, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook until vegetables are soft, about 45 minutes. Add orange zest and juice, and remaining dill. Season with salt and pepper to taste. To serve, ladle into bowls and top each with a dollop of sour cream. Serve with hunks of bread.