You know how, in the movies, when a woman needs to go incognito all of a sudden, she holes up in a dimly lit hotel bathroom and gives herself a choppy haircut with dull scissors, and somehow it comes out fabulously? And you know how you think that’s just the absolute essence of shabby chic, so romantic and inspiring, and you desperately want that haircut until the movie ends, but then you wake up the next day and go on with your regular life and your usual haircut? Well, not always, you don’t.
Once in a while – for instance, last Friday – you take that idea to a hairdresser you trust very, very much – one who works in a properly lit salon with all sorts of proper hairdressing tools – and you let her have at it with the chopping. Let me just tell you, you’ll come away pretty pleased with yourself, and you won’t mind telling you. Plus, just add a pair of big sunglasses, and you’ll get to spend all weekend peering around corners, acting like that trip to the greengrocer may be the last one you’ll ever make. Pretending to be in the movies really is tops for cheap entertainment; and who couldn’t use a little cheap entertainment these days?
Alright, alright, it’s me we’re talking about here. You’re a regular 007 with the sussing out of the secret identities despite my best efforts at disguise. Well, in the unlikely event that this whole “my haircut” thing seems, at first glance, more relevant to me than to you, and maybe even a little not-so-foodish, consider how much effort we’ve both just put into my looking effortless – me with the overthinking, and the getting of the haircut, and the retelling, and you with the reading and the indulging me. (Thanks, by the way!) The thing is, after pouring all those valuable resources into acting like we didn’t, a couple of people can end up a little off-balance. They can find themselves craving a transformation of the opposite sort, one that turns rags to riches, to invent a brand new phrase all by myself.
Perhaps they would be open to such a transformation if it came in the form of a warming meal or two that elevated humble ingredients and techniques to silky elegance in the time it takes to chop off one’s hair in a dimly lit bathroom. A girl would like to think she could make this little bit of magic with nothing more than a pair of dull scissors if it came to it; but even the most luxurious of kitchens needs only a chef’s knife, a pot and a blender to get the job done.
Easy as pie, these soups are also fancy and subtle enough by far to serve at your next dinner party. As soup, though, not as pie – the pie thing is just a brand new expression I invented all by myself. At home on a chilly evening, or for lunch, either soup could stand alone, though I don’t recommend trying to pull that one on your hungry four year old, unless you enjoying hearing “JUST soup!?” and a cacophony of foot stomping as thanks for the admittedly-not-very-hard work of making one of these soups for dinner. For the sake of raising well-adjusted children, I also don’t recommend taking the stomping as your cue to put on some sunglasses and disappear around a corner into the night, never to be seen again. But if that turns out to be just the kind of thing your wry little head can pretend about on its own time, now that it’s sitting underneath your fabulous new choppy ‘do, well, just consider it a little thank-you for your continued readership.
Celery Root and Apple Soup
Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine1/4 cup butter 1 medium celery root, peeled and cubed 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cubed 1 large yellow onion, diced 4 cups chicken stock 1 big handful chives, roughly chopped 1/2 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil 1/4 pound slice of pancetta, diced Salt and pepper (black if you’re in it for the taste, white if you’re in it for the looks) * * *
Melt butter over medium heat in a large dutch oven or heavy pot. Add celery root, apple and onion, along with a good pinch of salt, stir to coat with butter, and cook, stirring frequently to avoid browning, for 15-20 minutes, until the veggies have softened somewhat. Add the stock, along with 1/2 teaspoon salt if the stock is not salted and a few good grinds of pepper. Cover, raise the heat to high and bring to a low boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, covered, for half an hour. Remove from heat. Puree with an immersion blender, or in two batches in a regular blender, until completely smooth.
Combine the chives and oil in a blender with a good pinch of salt and puree until nicely combined. There will be little green speckles throughout rather than a perfectly uniform green oil, but that’s part of the fun.
Saute the pancetta cubes over medium heat in a small skillet until some of the fat has rendered and the cubes are beautifully browned.
Ladle the soup into bowls and serve drizzled with the oil and topped with some pancetta.
The soup and the oil hold very well and can be chilled for several days and rewarmed. The pancetta is best as a last-minute addition.
Gingered Carrot Soup
Adapted from foodnetwork.com1/4 cup butter 2 pounds carrots, peeled if desired and diced 3 leeks, halved lengthwise, cleaned thoroughly and sliced 1 sweet potato, peeled and diced 4 stalks celery, diced 1 3-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg 8 cups chicken stock Salt and pepper to taste 1/2 cup half and half, or more to taste * * *
Melt butter over medium-high heat in a large dutch oven or heavy pot. Add carrots, leeks, sweet potato, celery, ginger and nutmeg along with a good pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until veggies have started to soften and brown in spots, about 20 minutes. Add chicken stock, along with 1/2 teaspoon salt if the stock is not salted, and a few good grinds of pepper. Cover, raise the heat to high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain the soup at a simmer for about half an hour. Puree with an immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender. Stir in the half and half, rewarm over low heat if desired, and serve. This soup keeps well for several days; just reheat gently, without boiling.