Thursday, April 2, 2009
The Generational Update: Creamless Carrot-Pimentón Bisque
Long ago, back in the now sepia-tinged days of 1996 (feeling old yet?), my mother won a national cooking contest.
Sponsored by my sister's university, my mother's winning recipe was reproduced on the school's main campus, on a scale large enough to feed the 40,000 students there.
That winning recipe was her Curried Carrot Bisque, warmly spiced with ginger, cumin, and fenugreek, a staple of our childhood. The brilliance of the soup lay in its creamy, silken texture -- a fact made that much more remarkable by the complete and total lack of butter, cream, or any other dairy.
While the soup remains one of my favorites, thirteen years later, it seems ripe for reinterpretation and revitalization. Shifting focus from an Indian to a Spanish influence, this version has fewer ingredients and a slightly more clarified flavor profile, highlighting the natural beauty of the carrot flavor. What better time than Spring to bring new life to an old classic? My thanks to my mother for the inspiration -- here's hoping she won't mind my meddling.
Creamless Carrot-Pimentón Bisque
Serves about ten people (and it freezes well!)
1 extra-large Vidalia Onion
3 Cloves Garlic
2 Pounds Carrots
1/2 Cup Short Grain rice (Paella or Sushi preferable)
10 Cups Chicken Stock
1 Tablespoon Pimentón (sweet smoked paprika), + 1/2 Tablespoon extra to finish
1 Cup Sweet Corn (fresh is best, but frozen is fine)
1/2 pound Bacon (optional, but preferred)
[Editor's Note: You can easily make this a Vegan recipe by using vegetable stock and by skipping the bacon, but know that if you make that choice, I will so judge you.]
Start by frying up your bacon in a large pot or dutch oven. You'll be chopping it up into little bits later, so this doesn't have to be too attractive. When the meat is cooked, set it aside on a plate, and drain off all but two or three tablespoons of fat. If you skipped the bacon (again, judging), start by pouring two or three tablespoons of Olive Oil into your pot.
Dice your onion up and add it to the hot fat. Put your heat at low, maybe medium -- we're looking to soften and sweeten these onions, not burn them to a crisp. Five minutes in, add your minced garlic. Cook for an additional three minutes.
Meanwhile, start cutting up your carrots. Everything's getting pureed, so don't even bother peeling them. Chop off both the top and the tip.
How to prepare your carrots comes down to personal preference, and what equipment you have on hand -- we're going to need these carrots really well cooked, and, so, if we can do it faster, why not? If all you have is a knife and cutting board, cut everything into long, thin carrot sticks. If you have a hand grater, or, even better, a food processor, you can shred your carrot into oblivion within a matter of seconds.
By now, your onions and garlic should be nice and soft. Add in your rice, raw, and stir to coat with the fat.
Immediately afterwards, while stirring the dry rice, add the first tablespoon of Pimentón.
Just when the pan starts to get dry (about ten or fifteen seconds later) add in your stock, whisking to make sure everything is well coated. If you're worried about salt content, you can always do eight cups stock to two cups water, or use low-sodium broth. Add in your carrots. I decided to shred my carrots in the food processor, as you can see.
From here, you'll want to turn your heat way up and boil your soup until everything is tender -- even with the shredded carrots, this takes a good 10-15 minutes. If you go with carrot sticks or chunks, this could take up to an hour.
Once everything gets cooked, transfer the soup in batches to your blender (or food processor, or food mill), and puree until very smooth. Stir in the final 1/2 tablespoon of Pimentón, and adjust salt and pepper to your liking.
As for the corn, if you're using it fresh and on-the-cob, simply give it a quick boil and trim it off the cob for sprinkling over top. If you're using frozen, simply add the frozen kernels into the hot pan and pour the warm soup over top -- they'll thaw quickly. Leave the soup at very low heat to simmer until you're ready to serve.
Ladle into bowls, and garnish with bits of bacon and something green; I had some nice rosemary lying around, so I went with that.
And that's it! Bright, delicately smoky, with a touch of sweetness left on the palate, this soup is perfect for these last cool weeks of spring. Soon enough we'll be in the full thrall of summer -- much like spring itself, this soup is a fantastic first course that will wake up your taste buds and whet your appetite for what's to come.
Music: Sweet Smoke -- "Silly Sally"