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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Christmas Dinner, Part One

For the last six years, my sister Sara has given me the same birthday present: a ticket to the Bridge School Benefit, a large concert held in the Bay Area at the end of October. For the last few years, we’ve been superposing another tradition on that one; between acts at the concert, she and I discuss what our family will be eating for Christmas dinner that year. Among the cookbooks I grabbed from her apartment as we were leaving for the concert this year was the year 2000 edition of the Best American Recipes series, edited by Fran McCullough and Suzanne Hamlin. I’ve not yet returned it to her—and I’m sure I’ll be bringing it up ad nauseum. The collection includes a number of intriguing soup recipes, including a Senegalese Peanut Soup and a Red Pepper soup whose ingredients include sour cream and a pear. That which appealed the most to me, however, and the soup I chose for our holiday meal, was the Cream of Celery Root Soup with Shrimp Butter.

I don’t know why I was so drawn to the description of this soup—I had never eaten or cooked with celery root, that I know of, and while I certainly appreciate cream soups, I’m by no means enamored with them. It was, I suppose, in large part the garnishes that lent this recipe a touch of delicacy—would it be melodramatic to say mystery? Something about poaching the shrimp in cream, the six tablespoons of butter somehow shrinking into two, the finely diced green apple—I guess I just love giving a dish the chance to be more than the sum of its parts, no matter how disparate those parts seem at the time.
Come Christmas day (which, for various reasons, happened to fall on December 30th this year for my family), I was very pleased with the results of this recipe. The soup itself was a solid and comforting base, the subtle leek-y sweetness beautifully offset by the salty hint of the drizzled shrimp butter and the green apple’s tang. I think next year we’ll be in the Midwest for Christmas, probably celebrating with relatives who are less inclined to trust recipes with wacky root vegetable and shellfish. I guess that’ll just give me an excuse to make this soup for myself!

Cream of Celery Root with Shrimp Butter
adapted from The Best American Recipes 2000 by Fran McCullough and Suzanne Hamlin, after Marcia Kiesel
-8 tablespoons (1 stick) plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
-3 large leeks (white and tender green parts only), halved lengthwise, well rinsed, and thinly sliced crosswise
-2 thyme sprigs
-1/2 cup dry white wine
-6 cups chicken broth
-2 1/2 pounds celery root, peeled, trimmed, quartered, and cut into 2-inch chunks
-1/2 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks [I couldn't find any Yukon Golds, so I just grabbed a baking potato]
-Salt to taste
-1/2 cup heavy cream
-1 tablespoon minced shallot
-1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, and halved lengthwise, shells reserved
-Freshly ground pepper to taste
-1/4 cup finely diced tart green apple, such as Granny Smith, for garnish
-1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme, for garnish

1. In a large Dutch oven, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter over low heat. Add the leeks and thyme sprigs, and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and simmer over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Add the broth, celery root, potatoes, and a large pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until the vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes.
2. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender or food processor until very smooth. Return the soup to the Dutch oven and stir in 1/4 cup of the cream.
3. In a medium skillet, melt the remaining 6 tablespoons butter over low heat. Add the shallot and the shrimp shells and cook, stirring, for 8 minutes. Strain through a coarse strainer, pressing on the shells to extract as much butter as possible; you should have about 2 tablespoons. Set aside and keep warm.
4. In a small saucepan, bring the remaining 1/4 cup cream to a simmer over low heat. Add the shrimp and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until just cooked through, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
5. Reheat the soup and season with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into warm shallow bowls. Spoon the shrimp mixture into the bowls. Drizzle each serving lightly with the shrimp butter, garnish with the diced apple and minced thyme, and serve immediately.

One reason I love to make soups for big, celebratory meals is that most (or all) of the work can be done ahead of time. I cooked each component part of this soup the night before, on my family’s makeshift Christmas Eve, and then just reheated and combined the next day. I don’t trust my parents’ blender to be leakproof, so I ended up using my mother’s new (and large) food processor to blend the soup. It wasn’t as smooth as it probably could have been, but it was delicious all the same.


Jonathan Patrick said...

"I guess that’ll just give me an excuse to make this soup for myself!"

hey now, what about your friends?

Anonymous said...

...and your family? thanks for the shout-out, and for soup that definitely exceeded the sum of its parts.

Anonymous said...

i wish I could eat this sounds amazing. le sigh damn the shrimp!