A warming French soup

I am about done with this cold weather. I feel like a hermit and am dreaming of sun and warmth. In the meantime, I am trying to keep my innards warm with soup and hot drinks.

I rarely do french cooking, which sometimes surprises me since the class I took at the Culinary Institute of America was a French Provencal cooking class. French Provencal cooking is very diverse. Provence was first settled by the Greeks and Phoenicians and later by the Romans.

In the sixteenth century it was annexed to France having resisted invasions by the Arabs and the Franks. The food of Provence has been influenced by not only the settlers to the area, but by merchants and travelers. The use of pasta came from the Romans, Olive oil from the Phoenicians, dried cod (as in Brandade) from Norwegian Traders and Couscous from North Africa.

Burgundy on the other hand is known for its heavy red wines and big rich foods as well as portions. Beef bourguignon, beef stew with onions and mushrooms simmered in red wine, all hail from the province of Burgundy.

My first interest in French cooking came from a visit to one of my parent’s friend’s homes. I stopped by to pick something up and they invited me to stay for a drink. The wife was a gourmet cook and was in the process of making Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic. I cannot describe in words the wonderful aromas that came from her kitchen. Not only the garlic but the smell of fresh herbs (thyme primarily) were incredibly inviting. I went home and quickly looked up a recipe for and cooked my own batch of this recipe. Kevin and I loved it, but our stomachs were not too happy later from all that garlic. Still, I always remembered that smell and wanted to learn more about French cooking.

In my favorite book list at the bottom of this blog, you will see I mentioned the book Pedaling through Provence by Sarah Leah Chase. Sarah was lucky enough to have done a stint as a cycling guide for Butterfield and Robinson. They conduct cycling tours in France (and other countries), cycling by day, eating at gourmet restaurants and staying in quaint first class inns. I have always had a trip with them on my “things to do before I die” list.

Sarah conducted tours in Burgundy and wrote another book, Pedaling through Burgundy. Yesterday when it was cold and rainy, I decided to try a recipe from this book. It was the Everyday French Vegetable Soup recipe.

I bundled myself up, put on a hat and gloves and headed to WholeFoods to buy the ingredients. At the checkout counter, I had to wonder why I was going through all the trouble and expense when I could have just bought a fresh made soup at WholeFoods. But of course, that isn’t what a foodie like me would settle for. Twenty dollars later, I headed home with the goods.

I made a half recipe and that made a lot. There are a lot of ingredients and a lot of chopping to do, but you end up with a very healthy, gently flavored vegetable soup. I suspect you could add chicken to it but it isn’t necessary. Its good just the way it is.

The only changes I made were to use Rutabaga in place of the Turnip in her recipe. I had already purchased one and actually I like Rutabaga but really “don’t” like Turnips. I highly recommend you use fennel rather than celery. It adds a lot to the flavor.

One trick I learned in culinary school was in cleaning leeks. I had always been told to separate the layers and rinse the dirt in each layer before chopping. My instructor had a better idea. Cut up the leeks, put them in a colander and rinse them with cold water to remove the dirt. Much more effective.

You can drink the leftover Chardonnay while cooking like the Galloping Gourmet (or Julia) used to do or save it to have with the soup. I squeeze lemon over the soup before eating it. I think it adds a little zing to this gently flavored soup.

I toasted and buttered a piece of Rosemary bread to serve with it. Loved it.

Everyday French Vegetable Soup (1/2 recipe)

2 tbl unsalted butter
2 leeks, trimmed, washed and minced
1 ½ cloves of garlic minced
1/2 bulb fennel trimmed and minced (could use 1 ½ ribs celery)
1-2 stalks of fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
2 medium carrots peeled and cut into ¼ inch thick coins
1 rutabaga peeled and cut in ¼ inch chunks
2 cups shredded green cabbage
1 medium potato, peeled and thinly sliced ( I used 2 yukon gold potatoes)
1 can white beans drained and rinsed
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup domestic chardonnay (or for true French soup, white Burgundy)
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
Minced fresh parsley for garnish
Lemon wedges

1. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the leeks, garlic, fennel, and thyme; Sauté until very soft, about 15 minutes. Add the carrots, rutabaga, cabbage, potato and beans. Pour in the stock and wine and season with the bay leaf, salt and pepper. Let the soup simmer, uncovered until all the veggies are tender, 35-45 minutes.
2. Ladle the soup into large soup bowls and garnish each serving with some parsley. I squeeze some lemon in before serving to add a little zip to the soup.

Serve with toasted, buttered Rosemary Bread or a good Sourdough.
Supposedly 4 servings but it is a very dense soup, so it goes farther.