November 15, 2009

Roasted Winter Vegetable Soup with Caraway Seeds

Many people spend this time of year reminiscing about sweet summer fruits and tender vegetables, which is fine and all…so long as it doesn’t detract from fully embracing and savoring delicious winter vegetables. Farmers markets are piled high with an array of winter squash, root vegetables, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale, to name a few...

Root vegetables and hard-shell squash are particularly versatile; some common ways to prepare them include roasting, steaming, sautéing, boiling, mashing, and pureeing. Roasting is a particularly special way to enjoy these winter vegetables, which brings out rich, earthy, sweet flavors that doesn’t really compare to any other way of cooking them.

I recently went a little crazy at the farmers’ market and came home with way too many vegetables (after all, it's just me!). Pureed soups are a great way to use up fresh produce, especially because they can easily be frozen for a later use. Given my obsession for roasted vegetables, I figured that using them to make a soup would result in nothing but deliciousness.

The theme of root and other winter vegetables also got me thinking about colder-climate regions that have adapted traditional dishes that are based on nature’s bounty. Eastern European cuisine features countless dishes with potatoes, cabbage, beets, rutabagas, etc…..and more often than not, they are accompanied by the distinct flavors of caraway seeds in rye bread. Since I am always looking for ways to add a special touch to my recipes, I thought toasted caraway seeds would be a nice addition.

Caraway seeds come from an herb in the parsley family and, in fact, aren’t seeds at all but the small fruit of the caraway plant. They are commonly used to flavor Eastern European cabbage dishes, pork, sausages, breads and soups, but are probably most noted for their flavor contributions to rye bread.

My roasted winter vegetable soup recipe turned out to be just right—flavorful but not to rich, hearty, and perfect for a cool autumn day. The caraway seeds proved to be a great touch and rye bread was the perfect accompaniment. I admit…I slacked and didn’t make my own bread this time; but I did pick up some European-style dark rye bread at TJ's that is just fabulous.

Roasted Winter Vegetable Soup with Caraway Seeds

4 lbs assorted winter vegetables – I used carrots, turnips and cauliflower
10 whole cloves garlic, unpeeled
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 ½ cups milk or cream
1 tablespoon caraway seeds

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Cut vegetables into 1¼ inch cubes (leave more delicate vegetables like cauliflower in larger pieces to prevent burning). Place them in a single layer on 1 to 2 baking sheets lined with foil. Drizzle them with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast until caramelized and tender, about 30-45 minutes.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and celery and sauté 10 minutes. Add roasted vegetables, thyme and broth. Transfer to a food processor or blender and puree. Return to pot and stir in milk or cream. Bring to a simmer over low heat.

Meanwhile, set a small pan over medium heat. Add caraway seeds and toast until lightly browned and fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.

Season soup with salt and pepper. Divide among bowls and top with toasted caraway seeds. Serve with warm rye or other bread.

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