Cooking from the Farms: Soup for Now and Later

At lunch last week my sister reminded me that our father was a man who loved celery.  She thinks of him, she said, every time she washes some ribs for tossed salads.

She told me more:  He washed the stalks immediately after bringing them home from the market, and stored them in the fridge, standing upright in a glass jar filled with cold water.  The celery stayed crisp this way.  When hunger came over him he mixed together a simple dressing of olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, and dipped cut celery stalks into it for a favorite snack.

Seasoned olive oil dipping sauce – our father was a man ahead of his time.  This was perhaps the 1950s, my sister’s childhood and adolescence, the heyday of jell-o and canned foods and casseroles bound together with condensed soups.  Before my time, anyway; I have no memory of this celery ritual.

But I liked hearing that story, liked knowing our father, who had a broad and sometimes sophisticated palate, also possessed an appreciation for the underappreciated foods.  Celery must be the humblest, most ordinary, taken for granted, what else to do but throw it in a salad type of produce.

Some items I get from the CSAs are exotic, fun, sexy even, practically advertising themselves for equally showy presentations.  Vividly colored ice creams or upside down cakes, creamy risottos, authentic lasagnas.  If these vegetables could talk they might say, “Use me and people will think you are a rock star of the kitchen.”  Of course we love those kinds of promises, that kind of show.  What cook wouldn’t like to be revered?

Some items, though, like the celery I got from Cider Hill, like the bountiful Heron Pond Farm cucumbers gathered in my vegetable bins, don’t make those same claims.  These vegetables appear to be satisfied being sliced into and tossed with leafy greens, their crispness and fresh taste providing a supporting role in the supper salad.

And we, in turn, seem satisfied too.  We are mostly content with finding them in these salads, spearing a slice or two on the ends of our forks, routinely crunching away.

But let’s see if we can’t get these most dependable of vegetables – and ourselves – out of well dug ruts, shall we?

Soup is a great place to start.  Soup is simple, humble, and often filling fare that is meant to use up odds and ends and squash hunger pangs.  A fitting vehicle for unassuming vegetables you may not know what else to do with.  But soup can be thought of this way too: its purposes, as basic as they may be, serve to make it one of the most creative dishes around.  Impromptu soup making forces your brain to devise something delicious out of what you may consider ordinary.  Like cucumbers and celery.

Soup For Now

I’m coming around to cold soup.  Our region’s intense humidity nudges me further and faster along the process of embracing it.  The amount of cucumbers I’m getting from Heron Pond Farm helps too.

These small to medium cukes with their refreshing taste and tender but glossy skins whiz up into perfect summer soup.  In this soup I do not stray too far from a cucumber’s comfort zone – the salad – but I add to it a Greek flavor.

Greek Salad Soup

serves 4

For soup:

  • 1 pound cucumbers, ends trimmed, seeded, cut up into chunks

  • 1 ½  cups water
  • juice of one lemon
  • ¾ cup chopped red onion

  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • 2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½  cup parsley (or arugula, if you have it instead)
  • 8 ounces plain Greek yoghurt

For garnish:

  • four slices of good bread
  • a garlic clove, halved
  • olive oil
  • a few cherry tomatoes, chopped
  • a few slices of cucumber, chopped
  • another ounce of feta cheese, crumbled

Make the garnish first.  Put enough olive oil in a small skillet to cover the bottom of the pan.  Rub the bread slices on both sides with the cut garlic, then place these in the oil.  Toast in the pan until golden brown on both sides.  Remove these to a piece of paper towel to drain.

Make a little amount of chopped salad with the vegetables and cheese.  Put this in a small bowl, sprinkle with a little olive oil, and chill.

For the soup, place the cucumbers, water, lemon, onion, and garlic into the glass container of a blender.

Process until slightly chunky but blended together.

Add to the blended mixture the cheese, salt, parsley and yoghurt.  Process until smoother, but still with a little of the texture from the vegetables.  Chill if desired before serving.

To serve, fill a bowl with the soup.  Top a slice of the garlic toast with a little of the chopped salad.  Float this crouton on top of the soup and enjoy.

Soup For Later

This soup takes no time and little effort to get it into the pot.  Make it now with your fresh head of celery but freeze it for eating in cooler weather, that moment when the air has changed and a taste of summer might perk you up.

Celery is also good braised.  Lidia Bastianich has a great braise recipe called “Celery Steamed in a Skillet” in her book, Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy.  Celery also takes well to being roasted alongside a chicken and lots of root vegetables.  It gets slightly desiccated and stickily sweet with caramelization.

Cider Hill produces a darker green celery than what you might usually see at the grocery store.  Their variety will require a bit more cooking down in this soup recipe than the whiter type, but the flavor – clean with a bite on the finish – is extraordinary.

Creamy Celery Soup

makes 1 ½-2 quarts

  • olive oil
  • one medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 head celery, with leaves if possible, washed and chopped into small pieces
  • 2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut up
  • 4-6 cups vegetable or chicken stock (I used a combination)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Place a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add to it 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil.  When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the onion and sauté until it softens.  Add the potato pieces, the celery pieces, and the celery leaves.  Stir to combine and let the leaves wilt a bit.

Cover with 4 cups of chicken stock and let this simmer gently, partially covered, until the celery and potatoes are tender.  Depending on the type of celery you have, this cooking time may take from 30 minutes to an hour or slightly more.

When soft, taste broth for seasoning, and add salt and pepper to taste.  Remove pot from the heat and let the soup cool slightly.

Working in batches, puree the slightly cooled soup in a blender until very smooth.

Note: When pureeing hot or even warm liquids, remove the center plastic knob from the blender’s lid in order to provide a release of pressure when running the blender.  Cover the lid lightly with a dish towel and hold the towel down over the lid firmly with your hand.  Turn the blender on using a slow speed to start and work up to a higher one.  This way you avoid splashing hot soup on yourself or the counter.

Pour pureed soup back into the saucepan.  Use up to the additional 2 cups of chicken stock to thin the soup to your desired consistency.  If you like, and if the soup doesn’t look smooth enough to you, you may puree it a second time, again in batches.

Pour finished soup into freezer containers and keep frozen for up to 2 months.

©2010  Jane Ward