Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Golden Beet & Pear Soup

Whenever someone hires me to prepare a meal, the first thing I do is ask them about their food preferences.  Of course I want to make sure that I know about allergies and food dislikes…but mostly I’m interested in finding out what they really love to eat…or what they are in the mood for right now—basically what will make the meal special for them.  Most of the time people request a certain protein for the entrée…or a seasonal ingredient that they would love to have somewhere in the menu.  Occasionally someone will request a particular classic dish.  But most of the time the requests are general in nature.  Whether general or specific, I use their preferences to design a few menus (that sound delicious to me) that they can then choose from.

Recently as I was getting ready to prepare a special lunch for two women who have been coming to my classes since the very first class I taught (almost 20 years ago!), I was surprised to get a very specific request in response to my query:  Golden Beet & Pear Soup.  I had never thought of making a golden beet soup (a great idea because you get the delicious beet flavor without the shocking color of a magenta soup)…much less combining it with pear.  But beet and pear are a classic salad combination…and I knew the flavors would work well together.  So I included a golden beet and pear soup in my proposal.  I was not surprised when they chose it for their first course.

Almost all of my puréed soups follow the same formula:
  cook some aromatic vegetables (always some onion/leek/shallot…often garlic, carrot and/or celery…occasionally fennel or peppers) in a fat of some kind (butter, olive oil…sometimes bacon fat) in order to infuse the fat with the flavor of these vegetables.  This step gives depth and roundness of flavor to the finished soup.  (You should never skip it.)  You can add spices and herbs with the aromatic vegetables if you like.  Then, add the main vegetable(s)—either in their raw form or already cooked (roasted, for example)—along with some stock or water.  All of this is then simmered together to soften the vegetables (if they were raw) and blend the flavors.  You can also add herbs and other flavors towards the end of cooking if you would like their flavor to be more prominent (rather than the background flavor of those added at the beginning).  Finally, purée and pass the soup through a sieve (to give the most velvety texture) and finish with cream if you like. That’s all there is to it.

Most of the time the main vegetable will provide all the thickening that you need for a puréed soup (they don’t need to be super thick).
  Although occasionally you will find recipes that incorporate potato with the main vegetable since the potato will add thickness and body.  Frequently I will add a little rice to cook with the vegetables.  This provides a small amount of starch for thickening, but mostly I like it because it seems to help emulsify the liquids and solids together (adding to that aforementioned velvety texture).

Because I thought the beet and pear would make a subtle soup, I was careful not to get carried away with my additions.
  I didn’t add any carrot or celery, which could easily have overwhelmed.  To the onion-shallot-garlic base, I added a little coriander (to accentuate the sweetness of the beets and pear) and thyme (which I love with pear and apples in savory preparations).  I also added some ginger, which I thought would light up both main flavors (it did!).  I could have added it at the beginning with the aromatic vegetables, but in this case I felt this would soften the flavor too much.  Instead I opted to add it towards the end.

It is always a good idea to finish a puréed soup with a nice garnish of some kind.
  This will provide complimentary flavor…or a great textural contrast.  It also adds to the beauty of the final dish.  Something as simple as a drizzle of olive oil…or lightly frothed cream…or crème fraiche…and a sprinkling of herbs (maybe parsley or chives) is sufficient.  But all kinds of things are possible:  seasoned oils, bits of cheese, seeds, nuts, a complimentary or contrasting vegetable purée, pesto, croutons or garlic/cheese toasts.

For this soup I added a drizzle of olive oil and some crumbled blue cheese and minced toasted walnuts—which complimented both the beets and the pears…as well as each other.
  It seemed like an obvious finish to me.

I was astonished by this soup.  It is subtle…and suave…tasting of beets, with a fragrant, slightly sweet finish from the pear.  A truly special and elegant soup.  I wouldn't have thought of if it hadn't been suggested to me.  It will now have a permanent place in my repertoire.  I hope that you will give it a try.  I know that I will remember my friends…and their special lunch…every time I make it.

Golden Beet & Pear Soup

1 1/2 T. olive oil
1 large onion (about 1/2 lb.), thinly sliced
1 shallot (1 oz.), thinly sliced
1 fat clove of garlic, sliced
1/2 t. coriander seed
1/2 T. picked thyme
1 T. unsalted butter
1 lb. gold beets, peeled, halved if small, quartered if large, and sliced a scant 1/4-inch thick
1/2 T. Arborio rice
1 large firm, but ripe, pear (about 1/2 lb.)
3 c. Chicken stock, plus more as needed for consistency
1 T. minced fresh ginger (or more to taste)
1/4 c. heavy cream
Freshly squeezed lemon juice, if needed
Salt & Pepper
Garnish of your choice:  drizzle of olive oil, spoonful of crème fraiche, crumbled blue cheese (something like a Danish Blue or an aged Gorgonzola), minced toasted walnuts, etc.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion, shallot, garlic, coriander and thyme, along with a generous pinch of salt.  Cover and gently sweat until the onions are soft—about 15 minutes.  Add the butter and melt.  Add the beets and cook for 5 to 10 minutes—until they are beginning to soften.  Add the rice and cook another 2 or 3 minutes.  Add the pear and cook for a minute or two.  Add the stock and bring to a simmer.  Cover and cook until the beets are beginning to be tender—about 40 minutes, add the ginger and continue to cook until the beets are tender—about 20 minutes more. (It will seem like the beets are taking forever to cook.  But don’t worry…at right about the one hour mark the will go from being a bit crisp to tender.)  Purée the soup and pass through a fine meshed strainer.

Return the soup to the pot and add the cream.
  Add water or more stock if the soup is too thick for your liking.  Heat through.  Remove from the heat.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt & pepper.  If the soup tastes flat or out of balance, add a small squeeze of lemon. The effect of the lemon should be to make the sweet flavors in the soup pop.  You won’t need much…maybe a teaspoon.  If you add too much, the soup will become tangy (which is not the goal).  You may also add more freshly grated ginger if you like—but be careful, the flavors of the soup are subtle and too much ginger will overwhelm the beet and pear.  Serve with a spoonful of crème fraiche, or a drizzle of olive oil, blue cheese crumbles and minced toasted walnuts.

Makes 5 cups or four servings (recipe is easily multiplied for more)

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