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Recipes and Stories

1 April 2015 Mastering the Make-Ahead Easter Dinner II (No Fooling)

Spring Carrot Puree is a perfect make-ahead first course for Easter Dinner.

Once you have the menu fixed, today or tomorrow shop for the things that will keep: pantry staples, dairy products, the meat, potatoes, onions, and anything that you’ll need for the next make-ahead—in this case the soup.

My own menu: Puree of Spring Carrots, Butterflied Roast Leg of Lamb, Potato Gratin, Asparagus (the jury is still out on the sauce for this), and chocolate pots-de-crème.

The soup can be made today or tomorrow. Purees are wonderfully easy to make and are practically (no pun intended) foolproof: though originally made by rubbing them through a wire mesh sieve, a process that took no particular skill but a fair amount of elbow-grease, we nowadays use a blender, food processor, or that favorite modern chef’s tool, the hand blender, and 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 or stripped down and sipped from mugs as a prelude to a casual brunch or lunch.

They can be made rich with cream, turned into a simple one-dish meal by adding cooked shellfish, poached eggs, or just a handful of diced cooked vegetables 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 Carrot 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 scrubbed and sliced carrots (about 1-1/2 to 2 pounds)
4 cups water
1 bouquet garni made up with a leafy carrot top, sprig of parsley, and 2 sprigs of thyme
3 quarter-sized slices fresh ginger root
Salt and whole white pepper in a mill
2-3 tablespoons raw (turbinado) sugar, if needed
1 tablespoon chopped carrot tops, chives, parsley, marjoram, mint, or thyme, for garnish
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream, 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, stir well, and cook until leeks are wilted but not in the least colored, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the carrots, raise heat to medium high, and toss until hot through. Add the water, bouquet garni, and ginger root, bring to a boil, and adjust to a gentle simmer. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Let it cool slightly and remove and discard the bouquet garni and ginger. Puree the soup with a blender or food processor fitted with steel blade or hand blender (in batches if necessary).

3. Taste and season well with salt and white pepper. If the carrots aren’t very sweet, add raw sugar to taste, but keep in mind that it shouldn’t taste like dessert. 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 and, if liked, a drizzle of cream.

You can actually use this recipe to make just about any puree. Just make the following substitutions for the carrot:

For Puree of Asparagus: use thyme 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 Sugar Snap Peas: I love using sugar-snaps for soup because their pods add flavor. 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: Scrub, 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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