1:51 pm
Mon February 23, 2004

The Recipe

Winter means soup, and that has Richard thinking about what goes in.

Wilmington NC – [Click the LISTEN button to hear Richard's commentary.]

I find myself most weekends these days engaged in my favorite whole body and mind activity: making soup. It?s winter and lately it?s been cold or rainy or both, and the making of soup ?and bread-- on weekends is a ready and necessary substitute for yard work or bike rides around Greenfield Lake. It doesn?t give the same charge as a bike ride but is instead a calming, mindful engagement that allows creativity some stretching room while tweaking the senses.

Soup is essential. It is a combination of primal ingredients that transform sometimes subtly, and occasionally dramatically, into a whole that is greater than its pieces. It?s sort of a letting over by the individuals to something more powerful than they are. In this way I guess soup is somewhat socialist, but let?s not get too immersed in the metaphors.

It is winter and I am making soup. In fact, I am making winter root soup by combining several recipes and then adding to these my own ideas based on available vegetables, whims and moods. Winter root soup embraces the often marginalized vegetables that are, well, roots that get to see the light this time of year in all of their gnarly and gnarled earthiness. It?s the warm winter version of gazpacho.

Here?s a quiz?what do you think these root vegetables would be? In amounts described in ones and twos you have rutabaga, turnip, parsnip, carrot, sweet potato, yellow potato, onion, and the one creature whose color will rule over them all, the beet. If you allow the beets ?which you pre-roast in foil, by the way?into your soup the soup will have no choice but to be red. An unorthodox red. But hey, it?s winter and we need a little color around here and beets provide a lot of vitamins, so I say let ?em in to the party?but that?s up to you. Otherwise just peel and chop everything else and begin building.

Soup dwells on process; it is a simple exercise in process. In a pan with some olive oil saut? the onions. Most recipes involving onions start this way to tame and capture the essence of the caramelized onion before any other ingredients are brought into the fold. Then you add that final, essential earth-dweller, garlic. Because it?s winter and every other person is sick or getting sick and you deal with the public constantly including on occasion those sniffly flemy young ones ? deviate from all recipes and double or even triple the amount of garlic. Go ahead, y?all aren?t going out tonight anyway and you know it.

The rest of the recipe is about building and we?ll post it on the WHQR web site but the soup is only part of the picture ? the world has not come full circle. It?s winter, and while our gardens lay fallow and resting, preparations still must be made for the early Carolina spring. At the risk of trespassing on a much more knowledgeable commentator?s gardening advice, I?m going to encourage you to discover the world of composting. After years of throwing our vegetable scraps out with the trash we are starting to give a little back to the earth with the hope that our garden will thank us for it.

Winter root soup ?like most activity by us kitchen folk ? produces over a week a pretty large amount of peelings and scraps that still contain nutrients that, when broken down, will greatly benefit soil. You can mail order a compost bin or build one on your own and then, in layers, add leaves, then grass clippings or other green vegetative matter and finally your kitchen scraps. No meat products, only vegetable.

In my little obsessive world you can only imagine the primal thrill I get diligently placing my onion and carrot peels into our special compost bin kitchen collector. Soup feeds compost and compost, eventually, will feed soup. The recipe has come full circle.

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Winter Root Soup

This is a combination of a Russian root soup recipe by Chester Aaron I downloaded from the NPR home page last November and another I found in the Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread (Workman) cookbook by an author who possesses perhaps my favorite name for a person: Crescent Dragonwagon.

4-5 beets

Vegetable oil

4 cups vegetable stock, homemade or store bought

1 small sweet potato or yam, peeled and chopped

2 medium potatoes, chopped

2 turnips, peeled and chopped

1 small to medium rutabaga, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons butter

1 large yellow onion, chopped

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 parsnips, peeled and chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 cup heavy cream or milk

Freshly grated nutmeg

Ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse the beets, dry and rub with vegetable oil. Seal in aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes or until tender. Remove the skins.

2. In your favorite, blessed soup pot bring the vegetable stock to a boil and add the potatoes, reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes (about half done). Add turnips and rutabagas and simmer another 15 minutes.

3. In a skillet, melt the butter; add onion and saut? for only 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic, parsnips and carrots and saut? another five minutes. Scrape this mixture into the soup pot, add the beets and simmer soup another 15 minutes.

4. Add heavy cream or milk and a dash of fresh nutmeg and simmer just enough to get it all warm again (do not boil). Don?t put the soup through a food processor as most recipes call for but, instead, just take put a potato masher to work very randomly and casually. Don?t think too hard about this. You?re done.

Basic Compost Bin

After looking through a few books I designed a compost bin that is four feet by three feet and made of heavy gauge wire mesh, or what they call hardware fabric, and supported at each corner by standard metal tomato stakes (with holes for screws). The bin and top are framed in for extra stability and to keep critters out.

Cut the sides into individual pieces. Attached the sides to wood framing pieces with a staple gun. Attached the framed front and back sides to the tomato stakes with screws and then to the two sides. You might want to put some landscaping cloth on the bottom to keep weeds from growing up through the pile.

Add a 5? layer of leaves first, then grass clippings, then kitchen vegetable scraps. Keep moist, harass your neighbors for grass clippings, clean the decayed leaves from the gutters and turn with a pitch fork several times a week. Add some topsoil. Turn. Add some leftover pete moss. Turn. In early April you?ll work the compost into the soil just before planting.