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Root vegetables make a warming winter soup

Recipe: Adapt the ingredients to your favorites

The soup is garnished with olive oil,  black pepper, crushed Aleppo pepper and cooked bacon.

The soup is garnished with olive oil, black pepper, crushed Aleppo pepper and cooked bacon. Kathy Morrison

Rainy, then cold, then rainy AND cold – that’s been December so far. All I could think of to make the other day was soup – thick, warming soup, to serve with a big crusty loaf of whole wheat bread.

The New York Times Cooking app came to my rescue, with this easy root vegetable soup that I’ve adapted to boost the flavors. Depending on what you like and/or have in the pantry, the soup can include regular or sweet potatoes, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, carrots or celery root. These combine with the usual aromatics of onions or leeks, plus garlic and celery.

I like potato-leek soup just fine, and could have gone with just russets, but wanted to make the flavors a little richer, so I included carrots and parsnips in my version. I used 4 potatoes, 3 carrots and 2 large parsnips, for a total of 3-½ pounds of root vegetables before peeling.

 I also make and freeze my own vegetable stock, but added some chicken broth and a half-cup of white wine to fill out the liquid needed. And since this was going to be dinner, I cooked a bit of chopped bacon first, then used the fat to brown the onion and leeks. The bacon became the final garnish for a delicious warm meal.

The soup cooks fairly quickly – less an hour, after all the peeling and chopping is done. I used my immersion blender to smooth it all out, but leave it chunky if you like, or maybe blend just half of it.

The bacon, incidentally, is optional, as is just about everything in this recipe. However, I highly recommend a sprinkle of Aleppo crushed red pepper – or any crushed red pepper – as part of the garnish. It gives the soup a delightful pop of heat, and heat is what we all need these chilly days!

Root vegetable soup

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:

4 slices of bacon, cut into small pieces, or 3 tablespoons olive oil or butter

1 onion or 2 leeks, or both, trimmed and chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced

3 sprigs rosemary or thyme

2 bay leaves

Salt

Black pepper

½ cup white wine, optional

Closeup of carrot and potato chunks in broth
Cook the veggies in broth until tender.

8 cups vegetable or chicken broth, or a combination, divided

3-½ pounds of root vegetables, peeled and chopped (a combination of any of these: russet potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, carrots or celery root)

Juice of ½ lemon

Garnish options:

Freshly ground black pepper

Extra-virgin olive oil

Aleppo pepper flakes or other red pepper flakes

Grated Parmesan cheese

Additional lemon juice

Cooked bacon pieces, reserved from above

Instructions:

If using the bacon, cook it over medium heat in a large, heavy Dutch oven or soup pot until crispy, then remove the cooked bacon and reserve. Otherwise, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil or butter in the pot.

one red and one blue bowl of soup on a counter
Garnish the soup to taste. We added bacon, too.

Cook the chopped onion and/or leeks and celery in fat until tender, up to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add the garlic, rosemary or thyme stalks, and the bay leaves, cooking for another minute.

Stir in the white wine if using, then about 2 cups of the broth. Add 2 teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Stir well. Set aside 1 cup of the rest of the broth for later, then add the remaining 5 cups broth and the chopped root vegetables.

Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Taste the broth and adjust the seasonings.

Remove the soup from the heat and let it cool slightly. Remove the herb stalks and the bay leaves from the pot. Purée all or some of the soup with an immersion blender or in batches using a regular blender. Return to low heat, and if the soup seems too thick, add the reserved 1 cup broth and heat gently. (Be careful with hot soup! The purée can volcano out of the pot; I have a burn to prove it.) Stir in the lemon juice.

Serve soup in warmed bowls with a drizzle of olive oil and a grinding of black pepper, plus, as desired, a pinch of Aleppo pepper, a few drops of lemon juice, a sprinkling of Parmesan and/or some bacon pieces.

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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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