Ever since I returned from Nepal I've been desperately craving fall comfort food. It was still hovering around 80 degrees in Los Angeles at the end of August but that didn't stop me from daydreaming about braises, stews and mac and cheese. That cozy time of year is approaching and my body just wanted to let me know where it stood.
The first chance I got, I roasted vegetables. It happened last year around this time that I made the first soup of the season, ushering in the cooler weather, holidays that will be here before we know it and warm, soul-soothing dishes. I was actually alone in my kitchen, smiling a little just at the thought of it. Also, the carrots and onions smelled intoxicatingly good after spending just a few minutes in the oven. What can I say, I love fall.
Soup, that quintessential fall weather dish, is absurdly simple to make, and I like to think September marks a time of reflection on all things simple. It's been many years since being on an academic schedule, but somehow September always feel like the start of something fresh. It used to be pencils and class schedules and books to buy. Now, it's revisiting goals set at the beginning of the year, cooking new recipes and staying inspired along the road into winter.
ROASTED CARROT PUREE WITH BASIL CRUMBS
After how silky it is and how fresh it tastes, the next best thing about soup is you hardly need a recipe to make it. If you have more or less carrots, adjust the stock measurements accordingly. For added creaminess without the cream, toss a quartered potato on the sheet pan if you have one.
This soup is easily modified for food allergies. It's already vegetarian (with vegetable stock) and you can forego any creamy toppings to make it vegan or if you need it to be lactose-free. For gluten free, omit the breadcrumbs and top with a drizzle of basil pesto instead.
16 carrots, approximately
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
3 garlic cloves
An array of spices including cayenne and paprika
Extra-virgin olive oil + salt + pepper
Vegetable or Chicken stock
Splash of Champagne vinegar
1/2 a baguette
A few basil leaves
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and set a large sheet pan next to your cutting board. Proceed to wash the carrots and lop off each of their ends. Peel, then cut into roughly 2-inch pieces. Spread evenly on the cutting board and add the onion and garlic cloves. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and your choice of seasonings. Drizzle with olive oil and toss well to combine. Roast for about 35 minutes, until caramelized and cooked through.
Let everything cool down a bit (you can also make this much earlier in the day, or even the day before) before blending in batches. Use stock to loosen everything up and blend until very smooth. Add puree to a stockpot and continue until all the vegetables are finished.
Warm the soup over low heat and let simmer for 15 to 20 minutes to allow the flavors to combine even more. This is the time to taste and adjust any seasonings if necessary. It may need more salt or cayenne, depending on how much of a kick you'd like. Also add the splash of Champagne vinegar, as it will really brighten up the flavors.
While the soup warms through, tear the baguette into large pieces and add to the bowl of a food processor along with a few leaves of basil. Whiz until small and medium crumbs form. Add to a sauté pan with enough olive oil to coat them all and toast on low heat for 1o to 15 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp.
Ladle the soup into bowls and top with the basil crumbs and creme fraiche or sour cream, if desired.