The Hubbas thinks I’m crazy. I just showed him what I go through when I come across a recipe that interests me. I research many of the ingredients, sometimes spending an entire afternoon going off on tangents. I never thought to include the flurry of articles that educate me in my posts until today.
Maybe he’s right. I might be nuts…which makes me think of hazelnuts and how toasted hazelnuts could be used in place of the pancetta…and when is the season for hazelnuts anyway? And is Italy a major exporter? How again do you say hazelnut in Italian? Oh yes, nocciola… And biscotti! I’ve never made biscotti before. How is that possible….?
Rounding third base and back to home she comes…
Around this time of year in Madison I can get a hold of some sweet locally grown carrots from Tipi Produce, Evansville, WI. For me, other than eating them right out of the refrigerator, the next best thing would be to roast them. I’ve been hanging on to a recipe for roasted carrot soup by Elizabeth Minchilli, who lives in Rome and writes about delicious things in Italy, for quite some time now.
A somewhat thick soup, it has so many of my favorite flavors: caramelly sweet carrots, pancetta and balsamic vinegar. This is the perfect meal for which to transition from winter to spring.
Let’s make it together…
Roasted Carrot Soup
2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch slices
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (Have you seen this article in last weekend’s The New York Times? Italy Growers Wary of Olive Oil Fraud as New Law is Weighed ?)
4 sprigs rosemary
1 tablespoon butter
1 large leek, white part only, rinsed and finely chopped ( I found this link useful: Jacques Pepin’s instruction for washing and chopping a leek)
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup white wine*
*I used a Sauvignon Blanc for its crispness and acidity and found this explanation helpful Dry White Wine. If you’d rather use dry Vermouth because it will last a lot longer in the refrigerator than an opened and corked bottle of wine and it can be more cost effective, here’s an article that educated me on the classic aperitif Vermouth 101 and this one on brands 3 Dry Vermouths.
1/2 cup cubed pancetta ( short-cut: I found a package of pancetta already cubed in the grocery store.)
balsamic vinegar (An interesting article and maybe someday I’ll spring for the good stuff–a little goes a long way and it lasts forever Everything You Need to Know About Balsamic Vinegar)
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Place carrots in a bowl with 4 tablespoons of olive oil and a teaspoon of salt. Use your hands and toss the carrots well.
Onto a sheet pan, arrange the carrots in a single layer and tuck the rosemary sprigs in between. Drizzle any extra oil from the bowl over all.
Roast the carrots until they are soft and the edges begin to darken. You may have to flip them over half way through to get color on both sides. Pay attention to the aroma in your kitchen. Make sure it stays pleasant. We don’t want the carrots to burn.
In the meantime, put the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the butter in a large pot (I used my Dutch oven) over medium heat. Add the leeks, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the pepper. Cook until the leeks are completely softened–do not let brown. This should take about 30 minutes. Keep it cooking slow. Your kitchen will begin to grow warm and delicious.
Add the white wine or vermouth (whichever you’ve decided on) and let bubble for a minute or so.
Take the carrots out of the oven and remove the rosemary sprigs. Add the carrots to the pot, stir and add enough water to the pot to cover the carrots by an inch and a half.
Cover and let simmer for 30 minutes. Let it all cool down and using a food processor, puree until smooth. You will most likely have to do this in a couple of batches. Be careful it’s not too hot. Using a potato masher would probably work well too although the soup might not be quite as smooth. I prefer the rustic texture of a few bites of carrots.
The soup can be thinned a bit with a little warm water, broth or milk (cream would make it decadent for sure).
Heat a small frying pan and add the pancetta, cooking it until it’s browned and crispy. This is where I would bet toasting some hazelnuts and roughly chopping them would taste delicious and would make this soup a vegetarian choice.
Now to serve: Ladle a little soup into a bowl, sprinkle pancetta on top (along with as much pork fat as your conscience will allow) and finish with a light drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Ms. Minchilli recommends this balsamic on her website La Vecchia Dispensa and in my opinion, would make a nice gift. Seriously, a little of this on a hunk of parmiggiano reggiano, or lightly drizzled over vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries…