|Garlic Soup Provencal|
Fresh plucked garden greens or the sweet juiciness of a sun-warmed strawberry are still far in the future. By the end of March I will be enjoying the pop of fresh garden peas and the perfume of chervil and fresh mint spilling out from baskets at our local farmers markets. Until then I am holding on dearly to the last of winter and utilizing what we have on hand. Spring is in the air, the sun is shining...but not quite yet.
Winter cooking is always a challenge. Cooking locally and seasonally when markets are teeming with piles of heirloom tomatoes and bushels of luscious peaches is a breeze. But what happens when markets close completely? There are plenty of greenhouses that supply us with the tastes of summer, a myriad of lettuces, eggplants, cucumbers, fresh herbs and even tasty tomatoes. Mix those with tubers and a variety of winter squashes and winter has seemed almost bearable. This time of year it is really hard to be patient even if I know Spring is almost here...but not quite yet.
“... one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I,
with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few,
that I have concocted a stew or a story,
a rarity or a plain dish,
to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world.”
For as long as I can remember our kitchen where I grew up always had a heavy pot simmering away on the stove. It is not uncommon this time of year for my own home to be filled with warm, fragrant and earthy aromas of a slow cooked roast or a bubbling crock pot, but, there is absolutely NOTHING on the planet as comforting to me as a delicious, homemade soup. There's something very satisfying about making this from scratch in your own kitchen from start to finish; and using up all those bits and pieces in the refrigerator. On an inbetween day like today a steaming bowl of soup "sticks to the ribs" and supplies that sense of fullness and satisfaction.
The rich roasted flavours and warming textures of this soup evoke memories of pure happiness. Earthy and soul satisfying it’s very much peasant food, created from very simple ingredients. Two heads of garlic, onion, and sage are roasted in the oven. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The aroma coming from the kitchen will make you ravenous. Add some oozy, gooey grilled sandwiches with the nutty flavour of Oka or Gruyere cheese, a lovely frisée salad, and a bottle of chilled light white wine and you will have what to me is THE perfect meal. This old Provençal recipe has been considered a healing, restorative soup for generations with complex curative properties. It is a good soup to cure a hangover, or when you’re feeling a cold coming on. The perfect cure, but why wait till then and enjoy a steaming bowl now.
**Garlic Soup Provencal**
2 garlic bulbs, cloves separated (about 40), plus 2 cloves, thinly sliced
1 large russet potato (about 12 ounces), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large yellow onion (about 12 ounces), trimmed, peeled, and cut into six-inch wedges
4 fresh sage leaves
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 1/2 teaspoons
1 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup good quality dry sherry, vermouth or sake (you could also substitute very dry white wine)
3 1/2 cups homemade or low-sodium store-bought chicken stock
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
snipped fresh chives, for garnish
Preheat oven to 400F. Toss whole garlic cloves, potato, onion, sage, 1 tablespoon oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper in a large ovenproof roasting dish. Cover, and transfer to oven. Roast, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes.
Remove dish from oven, and stir in 1/3 cup water. Cover, and return to oven; roast until potato is deep golden brown and garlic and onion are very soft, about 20 minutes. Remove garlic cloves an transfer cloves to a plate, and let cool slightly. Squeeze garlic from skins into skillet; discard skins.
Place roasting pan over medium-high heat Add sherry, and cook, stirring to scrape up browned bits, 1 minute. Add stock and 1/2 cup water, and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, and let cool slightly.
Puree vegetable mixture in a blender in batches. Press through a fine sieve into a medium saucepan. Heat over low heat; stir in lemon juice, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Divide soup among 6 bowls, and garnish with chives.