Soup to Stave off Winter


Photo by Ed Yourdon/FlickrCC

In this week's CSA share: baby spinach, potatoes, yellow onions, celeriac, carrots, barley, apples, parsnips, and grapefruit. To try the soup Anastatia made with her potatoes, parsnips, and spinach, click here for the recipe.

This week, the farmers who run our CSA decided to get back to basics. Our weekly newsletter informed us that they were testing what they call their "Emergency Produce System," which would come into play if a disaster prevented them from getting fruits and vegetables from the farms they work with in Georgia and Florida. So, no tomatoes or eggplants this week: everything was from Massachusetts and Vermont. Well, Massachusetts and Vermont and Florida—like me, our farmers apparently love citrus enough to bend the rules for grapefruit.

The same newsletter included a list of all the vegetables we might find in this week's shares ("might" because shares come in two sizes, so sometimes the 15-pound boxes contain things that don't come in the 10-pound variety). The list looked pretty perfect to me: butternut squash, potatoes, carrots, and parsnips are exactly what I want to eat now that the temperature has dropped into the teens. They make hearty soups and rich gratins, the kind of simple and satisfying dishes that steam up the windows and stick to the ribs.

This soup elicits the same kind of excitement I imagine little Walter felt: it's a beautiful bright green, like grass.

My friend Maggie and I sent a few excited emails back and forth about the Emergency Produce System, enthusing over parsnips and potatoes and plotting a butternut squash soup for our weekly dinner. It snowed on the day we pick up our share, and I could practically taste the sage-laced soup I had imagined as I trudged to Porter Square.

Except, well, the one thing our share didn't contain was a squash. We stared into the box, a bit taken aback, until Maggie offered, "Well. You know, Mark Bittman has a recipe for potato and sorrel soup; maybe we could substitute spinach for the sorrel?"

"Hmm," I said. "And maybe add some lemon?"

Back at Maggie's apartment, I made a quick vegetable stock while she peeled potatoes. We decided to cook them and add the spinach and the lemon juice at the very last minute, then puree the soup. We sautéed the potatoes (along with a parsnip, because we didn't have quite as many potatoes as we wanted) in olive oil with garlic and onion, then added the stock and simmered until they were soft. Using Maggie's immersion blender, we pureed the soup, then added spinach and lemon juice and pureed again. Then we tasted—and grinned. It was perfect.

M.F.K. Fisher has a story about Sir Walter Scott: she claims he once exclaimed "Oh, what a fine soup! Is it not a fine soup, dear papa?" during a meal. His father responded by promptly dumping in about a pint of cold water, "to drown the devil" and his son's enthusiasm. This soup elicits the same kind of excitement I imagine little Walter felt: it's a beautiful bright green, like grass. I had wanted the heartiness of a winter squash soup, and this offered something different, but even better. The potatoes and parsnip gave it body, but the spinach and lemon made it bright. It was sustaining but also light and exciting. It was exactly the awakening that our cramped, cold, grouchy bodies needed.