Ahhh, autumn: Crisp, cool air. Gentle breezes. Low humidity. Colorful falling leaves.
Somewhere. But not, I’m afraid, here in the Georgia Lowcountry. The weather may have moderated a little, but cool and crisp are still at least a month away.
While it’s still perhaps a bit warm to contemplate a vat of Brunswick stew or hefty sausage gumbo, a thick, hot soup can still be welcome. It doesn’t have to be loaded with sausages, heavy cream, and cheese to be hearty and comforting.
The soups that follow are rich with lovely fall flavors, not fat. They’re hearty enough to warm on one of our cool-ish autumn nights. Yes, there’s a touch of bacon or cream in a couple of them, and one of them is served with cheese, but none of them are drowning in those things.
Celery Root and Potato Puree
Celery roots are rather ominous looking, with their gnarled root bottom and brown skin, but once you get past all that, they’re a really fine root vegetable. The secret to looking for one in the market is that it should be firm and feel heavy for its size. If it seems light, pass it by; it’s past its prime and will be fibrous, tough and sometimes even hollow at the center. Serves 4-6.
• 1 large celery root, see note above on selection
• 1 large or 2 medium leeks
• 1 large russet potato
• 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1 small yellow onion, trimmed, split, peeled, and sliced
• 2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
• 6 cups chicken broth or water
• 1 each large sprig thyme, leafy celery top, parsley sprig and bay leaf, tied into a bundle with twine or wrapped in cheesecloth like a teabag
• Salt and whole white pepper in a mill
• Cayenne pepper
• ½ cup heavy or light cream
• Thinly sliced pale, inner leek greens, for garnish
1. Scrub celery root under cold running water with stiff brush. Trim, peel and cut into dice. Trim leeks and split lengthwise. Holding under cold running water, wash well, bending back layers to get grit and dirt between. Slice both white and tender green parts, setting aside some of pale, tender inner greens for garnish. Scrub potato under cold running water, peel, and dice.
2. Put butter, onion, and leeks in heavy-bottomed 4-quart pot over medium-low heat. Sweat gently until onion and white part of leeks are softened and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and warm until fragrant. Add celery root and potato, raise heat to medium, and toss until hot through. Add broth or water, herb bundle, and season lightly with salt and white pepper. Add light dash of cayenne, to taste. Bring to boil, adjust heat to steady simmer, and cook until celery root and potato are very tender, about 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. Let soup cool a few minutes, then remove herb bundle and puree soup in blender or food processor. Taste and adjust salt, pepper and cayenne. Can be made ahead to this point. Let cool, cover and refrigerate if making more than 3-4 hours ahead.
4. When ready to serve, return to pot and gently reheat over medium-low heat, stirring often to prevent scorching. Just before serving, stir in cream and let heat through. Serve garnished with white pepper and sliced leek greens.
This thick, hearty soup is substantial enough to serve as a main dish all by itself, and yet not too heavy for a soup-and-sandwich lunch. Serves 4-6.
• ½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
• 4 cups boiling water
• 1 pound (2 8-ounce containers) brown (cremini or baby bella) mushrooms
• 1 medium russet or Yukon gold potato
• 3 slices extra-thick cut applewood smoked bacon, diced
• 1 medium yellow onion, trimmed, split, peeled, and diced small
• 1 large or 2 medium cloves garlic, peeled and minced
• 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
• Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
• Whole nutmeg in a grater
• 1 cup soft white breadcrumbs
• 1 cup whole milk, heavy cream, or ½ cup each heavy cream and whole milk
• 1 generous tablespoon flat leaf parsley, minced, for garnish
• ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1. Put dried mushrooms in heatproof bowl. Cover with 1 cup boiling water and let stand 15-30 minutes. Carefully lift mushrooms from soaking liquid, dipping to loosen dirt, and roughly chop. Strain soaking liquid and set aside. Wipe fresh mushrooms clean with dry cloth or paper towel and cut into quarters. Scrub, peel, and dice potato.
2. Put bacon in heavy-bottomed 3½- to 4-quart pot over medium heat. Sauté, stirring often, until browned and fat is rendered, about 5 minutes. Spoon off all but 2 tablespoons fat and add onion. Sauté, stirring often, until beginning to turn golden, about 5 minutes.
3. Add fresh mushrooms and toss until beginning to color at edges. Add reconstituted dried mushrooms, garlic and rosemary and toss until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add potatoes and toss until hot through, then add reserved mushroom soaking liquid and remaining 3 cups boiling water. Bring to a boil, adjust heat to a simmer, season well with salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 8-10 minutes.
4. Stir in breadcrumbs. Return to a simmer, adjust heat to low, and simmer until the crumbs disintegrate and soup is thickened, about 10 minutes longer. Add milk or cream and let heat through. Taste and adjust seasonings and let heat a minute longer. Ladle into warm bowls, garnish with parsley, and serve with cheese passed separately.
Broccoli Noodle Bowl
Though inspired by the great noodle soups of Southeast Asia, with a name like Fowler, you know I am not claiming that this is “authentic” Asian cookery. Never mind. It’s perfect for one of our sometimes cool but rarely chilly October nights.
Make it your own: Add ½ to ¾ cup of shredded cooked beef, chicken or pork, strips of ham, or shrimp. Add soy sauce, Asian fish sauce, or Sriracha, or pass them at the table. Serves 2.
• 5 ounces Chinese egg noodles or vermicelli
• 5 cups chicken or beef broth or 2 cups of each
• 1 small stalk of broccoli (about ½ pound)
• About 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root (or to taste)
• 1 medium clove garlic, peeled and minced
• 1 small red hot pepper, stemmed and minced
• 1 small or ½ medium yellow onion, trimmed, split, peeled and chopped
• 1 large rib celery, washed, strung, and sliced
• 1 medium slender carrot, washed, peeled, and sliced
• 2 scallions, trimmed and sliced
• 2 large eggs, poached or soft-boiled and peeled
1. Bring 2 quarts of water to rolling boil over high heat. Drop in noodles, stirring to separate, and cook until al dente, using package directions as rough guide. Drain into colander and thoroughly rinse with cold water. Set aside.
2. Bring broth to boil in heavy-bottomed pot over medium high heat. Meanwhile, trim cut end of broccoli, peel tough skin from stem, and separate florets from stem and break into bite-sized pieces. Slice stem.
3. When broth is simmering, add ginger, garlic and hot pepper, let return to boil and add onion, celery and carrot. Let come back to boil, adjust heat to simmer and loosely cover. Cook 4 minutes, then add broccoli, raise heat until boiling again and lower it to a simmer. Cook until broccoli is crisp-tender, about 4 minutes longer.
4. Add noodles and scallions, bring back to simmer, and turn off heat. Ladle noodles and broth into two large, wide bowls, nestle an egg in center of each, and serve immediately.
Bonnie’s Grouper Chowder
From cherished friend and fabulous cook Bonnie Gaster. This one is a project for a weekend when you’ve got a lot of time, but even though it’s a little involved, it’s really simple and deeply satisfying, both in the making and in the eating. Any firm, large-flaking white fish can be substituted for the grouper. Serves 8.
• 1 ½ pounds Wild Georgia Shrimp
• 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon seafood seasoning, divided
• 2-3 pounds grouper cut into 1-2-inch cubes (ask fish monger for carcass to make stock)
• 1 large Vidalia sweet onion, trimmed, peeled and chopped (trimmings and peelings reserved)
• 1 large shallot, trimmed, peeled and chopped (trimmings and peelings reserved)
• 3 ribs celery, trimmed, strung and chopped (top leaves reserved)
• 2 large potatoes, cubed ½-inch and simmered separately in stock 10 minutes
• Kosher salt
• 6 extra-thick slices hickory smoked bacon
• 1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, membranes removed, and chopped
• 6 tablespoons butter
• ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
• 1 teaspoon freshly milled black pepper or to taste
• 2 cups half and half
• 2 tablespoons minced flat leaf parsley
• ½ cup thinly sliced scallions
1. Prepare large pitcher of ice water. Bring 3 quarts of water to boil in heavy-bottomed pot. Add shrimp and 1 tablespoon seafood seasoning. Do not let water even simmer. When first shrimp comes to surface, remove with skimmer or large slotted spoon to colander, reserving cooking water. Pour ice water over shrimp to stop cooking. Peel, reserving shells, devein. Cover and refrigerate shrimp until 30 minutes before serving.
2. Add shells to shrimp cooking water with fish carcass if using, onion and shallot trimmings and peelings, leafy celery tops and 1 tablespoon seafood seasoning. Simmer 30 minutes. Do not let boil. Strain, discarding solids, and wipe out pot.
3. In smaller 2- to 3-quart pot, put potatoes and 2 cups fish stock and ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to boil, adjust heat to simmer, and simmer 10 minutes. Turn off heat and set aside.
4. Put bacon in pot in which shrimp and stock cooked. Cook until crisp, drain on paper towels, crumble, and reserve. Spoon off all but 2-3 tablespoons drippings. Add butter, onion, shallot, celery and bell pepper and sauté until tender but not browned. Whisk in flour until smooth and fragrant but not browned. Whisk in 4 cups hot stock (if too thick, add more stock). Simmer 15 minutes.
5. Add potatoes with cooking liquid. Season with salt, 1 teaspoon seafood seasoning, cayenne, and pepper. Simmer 10 minutes longer. Note: Can be made up to a day ahead to this point. Cool completely, cover and refrigerate until needed.
7. When ready to finish and serve chowder, take fish from refrigerator and let sit 30 minutes. Bring back to simmer over medium-low heat. Add half and half. Raise temperature slightly and fold in raw fish. Cook only until a piece flakes easily; do not overcook. Taste and adjust seasonings, simmer 1 minute more. Roughly chop shrimp or cut in 2-3 pieces. Mix with parsley, scallions, and bacon. Ladle chowder into bowls and garnished with shrimp mixture.