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Recipes and Stories

14 April 2014: Easter II Spring Purees

Spring Puree, in this case made with fresh young carrots.

One of the nicest ways of beginning an Easter dinner (or any other spring celebration meal) is an old-fashioned French puree. These are not the thick, mashed-potato like “purees” that have become so fashionable lately, but fresh vegetable soups that have been pulverized to a suave, elegant cream.

Not only do purees show off the fresh, full flavors of the season’s produce, they adapt beautifully to the unpredictability of the weather, being equally as good cold as hot.

They are wonderfully easy to make, despite the fact that they were originally pureed by rubbing them through a wire mesh sieve, a process that took no particular skill but a fair amount of elbow-grease. If your kitchen is equipped with a blender, food processor, or that favorite modern chef’s tool, the hand blender, there’s nothing to it.

The tool you choose will determine the final character of the soup: the roughest puree will be from the hand blender, the smoothest from the regular blender, with the food processor somewhere in between, depending on how carried away you get.

Purees adapt well to just about any situation: they can be dressed up with garnishes and served in elegant, double-handled cream soup bowls for a formal dinner, or stripped down and sipped from mugs as a prelude to a casual brunch or lunch on the porch. If you want to be trendy, you can even pass them in shot glasses as a cocktail hors d’oeuvres.

They can be made rich with cream, made into a simple one-dish meal by adding cooked shellfish, poached eggs, or just a handful of diced cooked vegetables, cooked pasta, or rice. They can be jazzed up with spices, minced herbs, or a few toasted nuts.

Best of all for the busy host, they can not only be made ahead, but are improved by it, so you are freed up to enjoy your company or take care of last minute chores that can’t be done earlier.

Spring Puree (Master Recipe)
Serves 6-8

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup chopped or thinly sliced shallots or yellow onion
4 cups thinly sliced spring leeks (both white parts and tender greens)
4 generous cups prepared asparagus, carrots, new potatoes, sugar-snap peas, or young zucchini (about 1-1/2 to 2 pounds, depending on the vegetable)
4 cups water or mild broth
1 bouquet garni made up with a leafy celery top, sprig of parsley, and 2 sprigs of marjoram, mint, or thyme (depending on the main ingredient)
Salt and whole white pepper in a mill
1 tablespoon chopped parsley, basil, marjoram, mint, or thyme (depending on the main ingredient), for garnish, optional

1. Put the butter and shallot or onion in a heavy-bottomed 3-quart pot over medium low heat. Sweat, stirring often, until the onion is translucent and softened, about 6-8 minutes. Add leeks and garlic (if using), stir well, and cook until leeks are wilted but not in the least colored, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the prepared vegetable of choice, raise heat to medium high, and toss until hot through. Add the water, bring to a boil, and adjust to a gentle simmer. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about 10-15 minutes. Let it cool slightly and puree it with a blender or food processor fitted with steel blade or hand blender. (Again, the smoothest puree will be with regular blender, coarsest with stick blender.)

3. Taste and season well with salt and white pepper. If you’re making it ahead or serving it chilled, let it cool, then cover and refrigerate for up to four days. To serve it warm, gently bring it back to a simmer over medium low heat, stirring often. To serve it chilled, take it from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for half an hour before ladling it into individual servings. If it’s too thick, thin with a little water; some cooks add cream for a richer soup. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Garnish with herbs if liked.

For Puree of Asparagus: use thyme in the bouquet garni and for garnishing the finished soup. You’ll need about 1-1/2 pounds of asparagus trimmed, peeled, and cut into 1-inch lengths. Reserve 6-8 tips, raw, and cut them in half or roughly chop them. Use them for garnishing each serving.

For Puree of Carrot: If there are healthy nice greens still attached to the carrots, wash and set a handful aside. Use a sprig of carrot top and thyme in the bouquet garni. Trim the carrots; if they’re young, just scrub them well under cold running water; if they’re mature, scrub and peel them. Thinly slice them and add 3 quarter-sized slices ginger when you add them to the pot. If the carrots aren’t especially sweet, add 2-3 tablespoons raw sugar. Remove and discard the ginger before pureeing the soup. Garnish with chives, thyme, or minced carrot top.

For Puree of Sugar Snap Peas: I love using sugar-snaps for soup because their pods add flavor but don’t have to be strained out of it. Use mint in the bouquet garni and garnish. Stem and tip the peas and “string” them if necessary. After pureeing the soup, force it through a wire-mesh sieve to make sure there are no bits of the stringy seam fiber remaining.

For Puree of Spring Potatoes: Any of the herbs will work fine in the bouquet garni. Scrub, lightly peel, and thinly slice the potatoes. Garnish with chives and/or thyme or parsley.

For Puree of Zucchini: scrub, trim away the blossom and stem ends, and thinly slice the squash. Use marjoram or thyme or both in the bouquet garni. Add 1-2 finely minced cloves of garlic to the pot along with the leeks in step 1. Garnish with parsley, mint, or thyme.

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