Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Celeriac Soup with cripy pancetta or toasted hazelnuts

Celeriac Soup
with crisp pancetta

Bonfire Night approaches so what to serve up before the fireworks get going?  Last November I suggested a sticky Gingerbread recipe.  A quick look at the weather forecast for the UK this 5th November suggests we might need something warming, so here's my plan.   Celeriac is perfect for now.  This knobbly, beige, unpreposessing root veg is far from beautiful to look at but its creamy texture and mild celery taste make a luscious soup.  A few additions can turn it into something special. 

Celeriac is a close relative of celery, though hardier and less trouble to grow.  The leaves can be used in cookery but personally I find them too strong and prefer to use celery leaves instead.  The swollen stem is the prize here.  Seeds planted in late spring take 22-26 weeks to grow into a usuable size.  They can stay in the ground right through winter if protected from frosts with straw or a cloche.  Slugs do like it, but they like most things.

Celeriac Soup
with toasted hazelnuts

Topping a bowl of celeriac soup with a few pieces of crisply fried pancetta or bacon and a good grinding of pepper, adds a porky kick and gives it carnivore appeal.  Don't waste the fat which is rendered by the bacon, it has lots of flavour so pour it on as well. 

Alternatively, for vegetarians, use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock and garnish the soup with a few roughly chopped hazelnuts.  Toss the whole nuts in a hot pan to toast lightly and loosen the skins.  They will mostly come off under thumb pressure.

So, if the weather where you are is set to be unkind, try this warming soup.  Whatever you eat, enjoy your Bonfire Night party.

Celeriac Soup with pancetta or hazelnuts
(Serves 6-8)

30g (1oz) unsalted butter
1 onion, diced
1-2 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 medium-sized or 1 large celeriac, peeled and chopped (if you do this in advance you'll need to place the pieces in acidulated water)
2 medium sized potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 small deseeded red chilli (optional), sliced
1.5 litres of chicken or vegetable stock
Salt & pepper
2-3 tablespoons of double cream

1. A thin slice or two of pancetta or bacon, fried until crisp and crumbled.
2. A good handful of hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped

Heat the butter in a large pan and fry the chopped onion gently to soften.  Add the sliced garlic and continue cooking for a further couple of minutes.   Add the chopped celeriac and the potatoes (and the red chilli if using) and cook for a further 3 minutes.  Add the chicken or vegetable stock, bring to the boil, season and simmer for 30 minutes.  Puree the soup until smooth (if you want a very silky result, pass the soup through a sieve but I find this unneccesary).  Add the double cream and adjust the seasoning.  Serve garnished with one of the above.

To turn it into a really special dish, you could top the soup off with a slice or two of ceps instead, fried in a little butter until they caramelise then cut into manageable pieces (in this case you may want to pass your soup through a sieve in honour of the king of mushrooms).