The homeliest carrots make the best soup. Trust me.
I don’t know why I passed by The Herbfarm Cookbook on the shelves of Powell’s Books in Portland for so many years, but let me try to make amends now: It was a BIG mistake!
Author, Jerry Traunfeld, formerly of The Herbfarm restaurant fame, is one of America’s most gifted chefs. In fact, he is the 2000 winner of the James Beard Award for Best American Chef: Northwest and Hawaii.
It took an outing to his restaurant on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, Poppy, to push me over the edge, so to speak. After our inspired meal, I purchased the aforementioned cookbook and also his newer cookbook, The Herbal Kitchen: Cooking with Fragrance and Flavor. The chef himself graciously visited out table and signed both books.
That was a few weeks ago, and I can’t put either book down. The dishes strike me as radically innovative and yet subtle and unpretentious at the same time. I want to eat them all. The pages are now adorned with multi-colored flags and Post It notes that capture my thoughts about how to work some of these intriguing herbal concepts into my own culinary explorations.
This soup is a case in point. Jerry features a soup titled, Umami Carrot Soup with Mint, in The Herbfarm Cookbook. I intended to reproduce it per his specifications on the first testing round but ran into an immediate complication. I couldn’t source the specified carrot juice and have no juicer. (I have since then discovered fresh carrot juice at Costco, so will likely test the recipe later.)
Coincidentally, at the same time I was diving into Jerry’s cookbooks, I encountered some mighty homely carrots at the Portland Farmers Market. They were large, gnarly, seemingly overgrown, and tough looking. Some were orange and some were, well, beige. I mentioned the homely part, right? They were carrots that only my grandmother might love. As I recall, some of hers had a similar appearance.
I was about to pass them by but intuition nudged, and I instead asked the obvious question: “What are these?” The vendor replied, “Why these are heirloom carrots of course. And you will never taste a carrot with more complex flavor.” Perhaps in response to the skeptical expression on my face, he added, “Don’t worry about how they look.”
So I bought a large bunch. This soup is the result, and throwing all humility to the wind, I must say that it’s FABULOUS.
If you can’t find heirloom carrots, regular whole carrots will work. That said though, heirloom carrots have a dimension of flavor that is unique. Look for them in the coming months in your local farmers market.
And thank you, Chef Jerry Traunfeld, for your wonderful books and the inspiration for this delectable spring soup.
Heirloom Carrot Soup with Lemon Verbena, Spearmint & Lemon Gremolata
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound untrimmed leeks (6 ounces trimmed; 2 cups chopped)
¼ cup minced shallots
3 tablespoons minced, peeled fresh ginger
2 large cloves garlic, peeled, and minced or pressed
½ cup dry white wine (I used an Estrancia Chardonnay)
1 pound large, sweet carrots, preferably heirloom carrots, peeled, and chopped
7 cups low-salt chicken or vegetable stock, divided
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
fine sea salt, to taste
small handful fresh spearmint leaves
small handful fresh lemon verbena leaves
small handful fresh parsley leaves
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 small clove garlic, peeled, and pressed or minced
very thin slices of lemon
- In a large soup pot, melt the butter and slowly cook the leeks, shallots, ginger, and garlic, without browning, until very soft, about 15 minutes
- Add the wine and reduce to a tablespoon or so of liquid.
- Add the carrots, 6 cups of the stock, and lemon zest.
- Bring to a simmer. Partially cover, and simmer slowly until the carrots are very tender, about 15 minutes.
- Remove the soup from the heat, let cool somewhat and then carefully ladle, one batch at a time, into a blender. Liquefy each batch, and force through a medium sieve into a clean soup pot.
- Reheat the soup and add the remaining 1 cup (or more) of chicken stock to achieve a medium consistency.
- Sir in the lemon juice and season with salt.
- While the soup is reheating, finely mince together the spearmint, lemon verbena, parsley, lemon zest, and garlic.
- Ladle the hot soup into wide-rimmed bowls and garnish each with a slice of lemon and a scattering of the Gremolata. Pass extra Gremolata on the side.
Makes 4-6 servings.
Copyright 2009 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.