Today: The secret to the most richly flavored soup isn't in how much butter you use, but when you use it.
We've all been there, trying to make a creamy soup that screams of carrots or turnips or butternut, only to get to the end, taste, cringe, and wish we hadn't dirtied the blender.
Then we scramble and try to correct, adding salt and cream and Sriracha, but by then it's too late. We succeed only in making soup that tastes more like salt or cream or Sriracha, the heart washed away. We eat it, but with defeat. It's a sad story. I shouldn't have told it.
Cheer up! It doesn't have to be that way. We needn't wait and wonder if our soup will taste of anything. We just need to follow Jane Grigson's lead, and commit from the start.
Her recipe below might not look like anything different from your average puréed soup, and perhaps it looks worse -- celery and dried dill weed? It sounds like it came from one of the more severe victory garden manuals. She could have at least sprung for a fresh herb, you may think, or a piece of bacon.
But note the respectable chunk of butter added straightaway (Grigson was a fan of this pairing -- her ants on a log were celery hearts stuffed with butter and salt).
Rather than waiting till the end to discover what her soup needed, she fed it from the beginning.
The onions, celery, and potato will stew gently in that buttery goodness for 10 minutes, and it will drink up all their potential -- more than you knew they had. By the time you add stock and dill weed, the butter is a carrier and magnifier for everything that's good in those three humble vegetables.
Then you'll simmer a bit, blend, strain, and swirl in a little cream and more dill weed, if you're feeling flush. You've just made a perfectly elegant soup out of nothing.
If you're still not sure that celery can carry a soup -- maybe you're thinking of the can of cream of celery buried in your mother's tuna casserole -- this is the soup that will prove you wrong.
It tastes very much of celery, of course, but also strangely like the best homemade chicken noodle (without discernible chicken, or noodles). You thought that familiar flavor was all chicken -- but it might just be sweet celery and fat.
This is a thin soup, which might surprise you if you're not prepared. If you're in need of thick comfort, just add more potato or don't strain it. I preferred it thin -- the swishy broth makes it feel more refined, and its intensity all the more surprising; it also makes it easier to guzzle from a mug, alone.
Or, as Food52er muttersome, who sent me this recipe, wrote: "It would be just as perfect for serving as a first course at a sit-down dinner party as it is for slurping out of giant bowls (what we usually do)."
Since you won't be tweaking a thing last minute, you can get right to it.
Adapted slightly from Good Things (Bison Books, 2006)
Serves 4, 6 if the rest of the meal is fairly copious
1/2 pound celery, chopped (outside stalks or celeriac -- about 2 cups)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup diced potato
6 tablespoons butter
4 cups turkey or chicken stock
1/2 to 1 cup milk (optional)
About 1 teaspoon dill weed (2 teaspoons for fresh dill)
2 1/2 tablespoons cream
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].
Photos by James Ransom