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Recipes and Stories

29 March 2014: Spring Carrot Soup

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Here on the coastal plain of Georgia, spring carrots have been turning up at the farmers’ market for a couple of months, but it is now that they’re really hitting their prime. Friend Relinda Walker, the proprietress of Walker Farms, grows both the usual orange and colorful rainbow varieties of sweet young carrots. Laid out with their bright, fresh greens still attached, they’re as beautiful to look at as any bouquet of flowers you can imagine.

Nowadays, we take this vegetable for granted and don’t really think of it as seasonal, but the old cooks made a distinction between spring carrots and the fat, mature ones of summer and autumn. And since they didn’t have a supermarket on every corner with thick, out of season carrots by the dozen, they also offered practical advice for keeping carrots in the hills where they have grown for winter use.

Of the old Southern writers, Mrs. Hill’s treatment of them is the briefest, but it’s also the most lucid, and she is the only one to mention their important roll in the soup kettle.

369. Carrots.—Carrots require longer cooking than any other vegetable. When young, they only require to be washed before being cooked. Old carrots should be cut in slices, and stewed until tender; season with salt and butter. Carrots are good in soup, and are better grated; they give a rich color to soups.

—Annabella P. Hill, Mrs. Hill’s New Cook Book, 1867

Notice the subtlety of distinction in her directions that young (that is, spring) carrots don’t need to be peeled. It’s only later, when the outer skin turns a bit bitter, that it will need to be removed. She’s also right about what they do for soup: while she probably didn’t one that was all carrots, one of the loveliest ways to begin a spring dinner is with a delicate but deeply flavorful French-style puree of carrots.

Spring Carrot and Leek Soup

This classic can be made at any time of the year, of course, and is still good with fat, mature carrots and leeks, but it’s in the spring, when all the ingredients are new and exceptionally sweet, that it will be at its best. Once the carrots and leeks are older and their flavor is stronger, you may use broth for the soup, but when they’re really the season’s first harvest, use water: broth would overpower and blunt their flavor. If the carrots are more mature but still fresh enough to have nice greens, put a couple of fronds into the pot while the soup simmers, then remove and discard them before pureeing it.

Serves 6-8

2 pounds young spring carrots, with tops attached
½ cup thinly sliced or chopped shallots
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cups thinly sliced young spring leeks (preferably new baby leeks, both white parts and tender greens)
3 quarter-sized slices fresh gingerroot
4 cups water, or if using mature carrots, chicken or vegetable broth
Salt and whole white pepper in a mill
6-8 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon thinly sliced chives, garlic chives, or green onion top

1. Scrub the carrots under cold running water and trim their tops, reserving a handful of the liveliest green fronds. If they’re very young and sweet, don’t peel them. Slice a little less than 1/8-inch thick. Put the shallots and butter in a 3-quart pot over medium low heat, and sweat them, stirring often, until wilted and translucent but not colored, about 6-8 minutes. Add the leeks and ginger, stir well, and cook until the leeks are wilted but not colored, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the carrots, raise heat to medium high, and toss until hot through, then add the water and, if you have them, a couple of the reserved fronds. Bring to a boil and adjust the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook only until vegetables are tender, about 10-15 minutes. Take care not to overcook the carrots and leeks; they should be tender enough to puree, but their flavor should still be bright and fresh. Let it cool slightly, remove and discard the ginger, and puree in a blender or food processor fitted with steel blade or with a hand blender. (Smoothest puree will be with the regular blender, the coarsest with stick blender.)

3. Taste and season well with salt and white pepper. The soup can be made ahead to this point. Let it cool completely, cover, and refrigerate for up to 2 days. To serve it warm, gently bring it back to a simmer over medium low heat, stirring often. To serve it cold, let it sit at room temperature for half an hour so that it loses the intense chill from the refrigerator. If necessary, thin it with a little water, then taste and correct the seasonings. Just before serving, chop enough of the reserved carrot fronds to make 1 tablespoon. Drizzle each serving with a tablespoon of cream and garnish with a sprinkling of carrot frond and chives.

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