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Italians have a whole class of soups called vellutata or “velveted soups” (it doesn’t translate very well). These are thick, filling purées that are meals in themselves rather than appetite-openers like light broth soups sprinkled with finely cut vegetables.
While the soup comes out very creamy, it is actually vegan. By adding a small amount of potato to the base, the soup becomes perfectly lush, with a velvet-like softness post purée. You don’t need very much potato (in fact, too much will give you a gluey, gummy soup), but that small amount binds everything together into a soup that’s filling enough to serve as a satisfying meal on its own, perhaps with a salad or a piece of cheese and grilled bread.
Once you master the potato technique you can use this recipe with any combination of fall or root vegetables you fancy. While Italians make this soup all year long (one of my favorite versions involves summer vegetables—eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes—all cooked with basil and a little potato and then puréed), but it works magnificently with fall and winter vegetables in particular. Within the recipe, there is flexibility: You could use pumpkin, parsnips, rutabaga, or Jerusalem artichokes instead of celery root and turnips.
In addition to using potato to create lush richness and smooth texture, this soup uses another favorite Italian technique of mine: Instead of adding homemade meat stock (which is required in many French soups), all you do is pour in just enough water to cook the vegetables. That water absorbs the vegetable flavor so that when everything is puréed together, the vegetable flavor is intensified rather than diluted (or weighed down with meat).
Unless you add butter while sweating the alliums or dairy toppings at the end, this soup is rich, filling, and entirely vegan.
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons for drizzling
- 1 small onion, peeled and minced
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1 leek, trimmed, cleaned, and finely sliced
- Salt and pepper, for seasoning
- 1 medium-sized potato (any kind will do), peeled and diced
- 2 1/2 cups water, divided
- 1 celery root (about 2 1/2 pounds), peeled and diced (or swap in another root vegetable)
- 1 large turnip (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and diced (or swap in another root vegetable)
- Optional garnishes, listed in step 5 below