So there I was on September 5 wondering why I wasn’t, like last year, meeting friends at the beautiful house we rented in Gascony. I had the late-summer farm stand remains of a week’s cooking in the vegetable bin and on the counter. The weather had turned crisp and I had just been browsing “Lulu’s Provencal Kitchen” anticipating the cooler weather and the promise of a daube Provençal. In the pantry was the last of the Maggi cubes I brought back from France. I’ve always been struck, from Olney’s book, by the way Lulu Peyraud seemed to make the most beautiful soups out of very little. Last year in France, after buying a distinctly beautiful little pumpkin in one of the markets, I made a late summer pumpkin soup for dinner one night. I had no pumpkin this year, but I did have carrots, a red pepper, a few slices of tomato and fresh sage from a neighbor's garden. That’s how this soup, a warming dish that brought back wonderful memories of a summer on the cusp of fall at a house deep in France’s most fabled food region, was born.
4 as a first course
large shallot, diced
large carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4" thick discs
small, sweet red pepper, seeded and diced
small, ripe tomato peeled, seeded and diced
chopped fresh sages leaves
bouillon cube - chicken or vegetable - preferably a Maggi cube
slices of good, leftover country bread cut into small cubes for croutons
Melt 2 T of the butter in a 2 qt. saucepan. Add the shallots and the carrots. Give them a stir in the warm butter. Cover them with a round of buttered wax paper, put the lid on the pot and sweat them, over medium heat, until they’re all nicely relaxed and exuding their sweet juices. This should take about ten minutes.
Lift the wax paper and add the pepper, the tomato and the sage. Give it all another stir, replace the wax paper and let the pepper, tomato and sage add their perfumes to the mix. Replace the wax paper, cover the pot again, turn the heat to low and allow the mix of vegetables and herbs to sweat for another ten minutes.
After ten minutes, the vegetables and sage should all be happily bubbling in some very aromatic juices. Add the bouillon cube and the water. Turn up the heat, bring the soup to a simmer and allow it to cook until the carrots are soft.
When the carrots are soft. Remove the pot from a heat and, using a hand-held immersion blender, puree the soup. Return the pot to the heat and add the cream, stirring to incorporate. Keep the soup warm over a very low flame, but do not bring it to a boil.
In a small skillet, melt the remaining butter and add the cubes of bread. Fry them until they are hot and crisp all over.
Serve the soup garnished with the hot, buttery croutons.
Raise a nice glass of red to Lulu Peyraud, Richard Olney and the intelligence of cooks who can teach us that simple cooking is, sometimes, the best cooking.