It’s cold, and Italy’s hearty soups are on tables everywhere now. But Italy’s culinary tradition boasts a wealth of soups that run the gamut from the rustic tradition of cucina povera to the refined alta cucina. This soup is a light, delicately flavored creamy classic, a pitch perfect overture to a sumptuous standing rib roast or a succulent baked ham.
Like leeks, the humble celery root has been known to man for millennia. The ancient Greeks called it selinon, and Hermes came upon it as he approached Calypso’s cave. By the 17th century it was cultivated across Europe. In fact, you’ve probably walked right by this relative of the carrot, parsnip, and parsley a thousand times in the market. Celery root, or celeriac as it is also known, can vary from the size of a baseball up to a softball. Cloaked in a gnarled, hairy brown overcoat, and sporting a top knot of long, deep green leaves, this is the ugly duckling of winter root vegetables. Peel away that warty outer covering though, and you’ll expose ivory flesh with a fragrance reminiscent of celery and parsley. Cook it up into a soup, and taste the essence of celery.
Where Italy’s iconic soups – Istria’s Jota, Farrara’s Sguazabarbuz, and Tuscany’s Ribollita – are thick, chunky, and multi-layered in flavor, this delicately flavored soup is an elegant melding of root vegetables simmered together in brodo di pollo (chicken broth) and puréed into a vellutata, Italy’s version of cream soup. Smooth and luxurious, this genre of soup owes its body and velvety texture to starchy russet potatoes and a final enrichment of cream. If you are looking for an elegant beginning to a winter feast, this is it.
Vellutata di Sedano Rapa
Cream of Celery Root Soup
serves 4 to 6
When selecting celery root, choose specimens that are firm, unblemished, and heavy for their size with a greenish tint. Spend a bit of time picking up the vegetables and comparing their weight, and you will be rewarded with superior flavor.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 leeks, white part only, cut into ¼-inch slices
1 parsnip, peeled, cut into ¼-inch dice
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled, cut into ¼-inch inch dice
3 medium celery roots, peeled, cut into ¼-inch dice
7-8 cups brodo di pollo – click for recipe
¼ cup heavy cream
fine sea salt
freshly ground white pepper
minced prezzemolo (Italian parsley) or snipped chives, to garnish
Use a vegetable peeler or paring knife to peel the celery root. To prevent discoloration, drop the diced celery root into a bowl of acidulated water (water into which a lemon has been squeezed.)
Melt the butter in a heavy bottom 6-quart saucepan over low heat. Enameled pans such as Le Creuset or Staub are perfect for this. Add the prepared leeks and parsnip, along with a pinch of fine sea salt, tossing to coat the vegetables with butter. Cover the saucepan, and sweat the vegetables over a low flame until the leeks are quite soft and somewhat translucent, stirring frequently. Do not allow the leeks to brown or they will take on a decidedly unpleasant bitter flavor.
Add the diced potatoes, celery root, and 7 cups of brodo di pollo to the saucepan. Stir well. Increase the flame, and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce to a very gentle simmer. Cover and cook, maintaining a gentle simmer, for about 50-60 minutes, until the vegetables are well softened.
Remove the soup from the heat and allow it to cool for about 10 minutes. Purée the soup with an immersion blender, leaving a bit of texture, if desired.
The soup may also be puréed using a food processor. Fit the workbowl with the metal blade and remove the pusher from the feed tube, setting the pusher aside. Removing the pusher when puréeing a hot liquid will prevent a buildup of steam in the workbowl which could force the top of the food processor off creating both a hazard and a mess. Purée the vegetables in batches, adding about ¼ cup of cooking liquid to each batch to facilitate puréeing.
The soup may be frozen at this point for up to 3 weeks.
To serve, return the mixture to the saucepan and warm it. Add ¼ cup of heavy cream, and combine well, being careful to keep the soup off the boil to prevent the cream from curdling. Add ½ teaspoon each of fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper. If desired, add the final cup of brodo, ¼ cup at a time to slightly thin the soup. Taste, adding more salt and pepper as needed. Serve in warmed bowls, and top with minced prezzemolo or snipped chives.
About leeks: select long, firm white leeks with the beard at the white end still attached. To clean leeks, slice off the dark green tops and the little beard, and discard. Cut through the leek lengthwise, leaving the very bottom layer intact. Hold the leek under running water, separating the layers to allow the water to run between the layers, making sure all the grit and sand are washed away. Place the cleaned leeks cut side down on kitchen towels to drain.
For another take on Celery Root Soup, visit Chiara Giglio at her site, La Voglia Matta.
Adapted from Carolyn Thacker.
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I have no affiliation with any product, manufacturer, or site mentioned in this article.