Year Of The Veg: Celery Soup

January 8, 2012

I’m getting a little crush on my Essential Pepin cookbook. It’s full of great stuff, and some weird stuff, too, but I like weird.

Well, only to a certain degree–I’m consciously avoiding the section titled: Charcuterie and Offal.  I’ll try weird but I’m not eating pituitary glands (sweetbreads) or intestines, and I’m not making my own sausage.  I think I’m permanently scarred after reading Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle in the tenth grade. Rubber boots and fingernails and hair ground into sausage? Eww. I don’t want to know what goes into sausage; I don’t think my nerves could take it. Thanks a lot, Upton. Keep the muckraking to yourself, buddy. I don’t wanna know.

I’ve been working my way through the cookbook, marking things I want to try, and this soup was one of them. I chose it mainly because it sounded weird. Celery and noodle soup?  That’s weird, right?

But I like celery. I like noodles. And in the winter, I will tolerate soup. I can’t say I like it, but I certainly don’t loathe it, like my friend Karen’s mom does. Nor do I feel shame in eating it, like my sister’s college roommate, Erica.  Erica refused to eat soup.  I’ll never forget the horror on her face when she saw me tucking into a bowl of chicken noodle.

“Soup?” she said, wrinkling her nose. “You’re eating soup? Poor people eat soup! Gross!”

Quirky girl, that Erica.  She also showed up in high heels for a camping trip, but that’s another story.

A few days ago, it was definitely soup weather.  The wind was blowing like nobody’s business, and on a blustery day, soup is a good thing.

I took out my Essential Pepin and perused the soup section, settling on this one.  However, I knew I was going to have to tinker with it because I didn’t have vermicelli noodles–or any noodle other than penne for that matter–and I had a scant two cups of celery on hand.

The good news is, Pepin is totally down with tinkering. He even suggests playing with the recipe: “Many similar versions can be prepared in the same manner. You can use leftover vegetables, such as a rib of celery, a bit of lettuce, an onion, and a carrot…”

I like that in a chef; his recipes aren’t too precious. Tinkering is fair game.

Good thing, because no way did I have any intention of braving the grocery store in that wind. Meteorologists in Boulder clocked it at 88 miles an hour at one point; I was staying indoors, people.

Thus, I totally bastardized tinkered with the recipe.  The original recipe appears first, and I follow it with the modifications I made.  The soup was simplicity itself. Pepin says it’s the soup he craves when he gets a cold, and I can see why. The flavors were clean and subtle and comforting. This isn’t a soup to eat when you want a wallop of flavor; make Mulligitawny or gazpacho if you want wallop.

I ate a bowl for lunch and then served it again at dinner, topped with some rustic homemade croutons. Oh boy–let me tell you, you want to add the croutons. They took the soup to an entirely different level.  My husband, who is indifferent toward celery, actually raved about his crouton-topped bowl. Croutons are magic.

If it’s blustery outside or you’re feeling a little blue, give this soup a try.  If you have leftover veggies on hand, more the better. Nothing improves my mood like putting leftover things to good use, which Erica would probably call “poor.” I call it smart.

Celery Soup

serves 6

from Essential Pepin

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more for optional garnish

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 cups sliced celery, peeled if the stalks are large and stringy (add the leaves for additional flavor)

1 cup sliced onion

1/2 cup sliced scallion

6 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 1/2 cups very thin egg noodles (vermicelli)

1 cup milk

Melt the butter and oil in a large pot. Add celery, onion and scallion and saute over medium heat until softened, about 2 minutes.

Add the water, salt, pepper and thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.

Using an immersion blender or a traditional blender, puree the soup.  Return to the pot if necessary and add the noodles. Bring to a boil and simmer for 3-4 minutes or until the noodles are cooked.

Add the milk and stir to heat through.  If desired, put a little knob of butter in the bottom of each soup bowl and pour hot soup over.

TKW’s Bastardized Celery Soup

serves 4, unless you are eating French-like portions

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 cups celery, de-stringed, leafy tops included, chopped

1 cup diced onion

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced

1 cup fresh spinach

3 cups water

3 cups chicken broth

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

2-3 tablespoons heavy cream*

fresh parsley, to garnish (optional)

Melt the butter in a large stockpot. Add the celery and onion and cook over medium heat until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic; cook 30 seconds. Add the water, stock, potato, spinach, salt, pepper and thyme and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes or until the potato can be easily pierced with a knife.

Blend soup. Reheat and let simmer another 5 or 10 minutes or until slightly thickened. Add cream. Garnish with parsley and, if you are smart, homemade croutons.

Homemade Croutons

2 cups stale rustic bread, such as ciabatta, sourdough or baguette, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1/8 teaspoon garlic salt (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place bread on a large cookie sheet; drizzle with oil or melted butter, tossing the cubes around to coat. Spread cubes in an even layer and sprinkle seasonings over.

Bake for about 8 minutes or until brown and crisp.

*I know Pepin’s recipe called for milk, but I was hesitant to add milk to hot soup, fearing the milk would curdle. Plus, I knew I’d be reheating this soup for supper, and cream is much more stable than milk when re-heating.  If, as I did, you throw a potato in the soup, it adds creaminess, allowing you to add only a small amount of cream with satisfying results.

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