If you are looking for something to start your Easter meal, look no further than this elegant soup made from the humble celery root.
About the size of a softball, cloaked in a gnarled, hairy brown overcoat, and sporting a top knot of long, deep green leaves, you’ve probably walked right by this root vegetable a thousand times in the market. But peel away the skin to reveal the white inner flesh, cook it up into a soup, and you will taste the refined essence of celery.
Some of Italy’s iconic soups are hearty and assertive – like Istria’s Jota, Farrara’s Sguazabarbuz, or Tuscany’s Ribollita. Where those iconic soups are thick, chunky and multi-layered in flavor, this delicately flavored soup is an elegant melding of root vegetables simmered together in brodo di pollo (chicken broth) and pureed into a vellutata, Italy’s version of cream soup.
Smooth and luxurious, this genre of soup owes its body and velvety texture to starchy russet potatoes and a final enrichment of cream. This soup is the perfect complement to an Easter ham.
Vellutata di Sedano Rapa
Cream of Celery Root Soup
serves 4 to 6
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 2 leeks, white part only, cut into ¼” slices• 1 parsnip, peeled, cut into ¼” dice
• 2 medium russet potatoes, peeled, cut into ¼” inch dice
• 3 celery roots, peeled, cut into ¼” dice
• 7-8 cups brodo di pollo (recipe follows)
• ¼ cup heavy cream
• fine sea salt
• freshly ground white pepper
• minced prezzemolo (Italian parsley) or chopped chives, to garnish
Melt the butter in a 6-quart heavy bottom saucepan over low heat. Add the prepared leeks and parsnip, along with a pinch of fine sea salt, tossing to coat the vegetables with butter. Cover the saucepan, and sweat the vegetables over a low flame until the leeks are quite soft and somewhat translucent, stirring frequently. Do not allow the leeks to brown or they will take on a decidedly unpleasant bitter flavor.
Add the diced potatoes and celery root along with 7 cups of brodo di pollo. Stir well. Increase the flame, bringing the soup to a boil. Reduce to a very gentle simmer. Cover and cook, maintaining a gentle simmer, for about 50-60 minutes, until the vegetables are well softened.
Remove the soup from the heat and allow it to cool for about 10 minutes. Puree with an immersion blender, leaving a bit of texture. The soup may also be pureed using a food processor. To use the processor, fit the workbowl with the metal blade and remove the pusher from the feed tube, setting the pusher aside. Removing the pusher will prevent a buildup of steam in the workbowl which could force the top of the food processor off creating both a hazard and a mess. Puree the vegetables in batches, adding about ¼ cup of cooking liquid to each batch to aid in pureeing. The soup may be frozen at this point, for up to 3 weeks.
To serve, return the mixture to the saucepan and warm it. Add ¼ cup of heavy cream, and combine well, being careful to keep the soup off the boil to prevent the cream from curdling. Add ½ teaspoon each of fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper. If desired, add the final cup of brodo, ¼ cup at a time to slightly thin the soup. Taste, adding more salt and pepper, as needed. Serve topped with minced prezzemolo or chopped chives.
Brodo di Pollo
makes about 2 quarts
• 1 chicken, about 4 ½ to 5 pounds, cut up, visible pieces of fat removed and discarded
• 2 leeks, rinsed, dark green leaves discarded, white part cut into 1″ slice
• 2 carrots, peeled, cut in 1″ chunks
• 2 ribs of celery, leaves attached, cut in 1″ chunks
• 8 sprigs of Italian parsley
• 10 black peppercorns
• about 2 quarts filtered water, to cover the chicken and aromatics
Place chicken in an 8-quart stockpot. Add cold water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat. Skim frequently to remove foam and scum. Once the pot has reached a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, adjusting to maintain a lazy simmer. Continue skimming until no more foam or scum rise. Add 1 cup very cold water to encourage the last of the scum to rise. Skim.
Add the vegetables, parsley, and peppercorns. With the stockpot partially covered, continue simmering about 2 hours, skimming frequently. Check the color at 2 hours; it should be a light yellow. For a darker brodo, simmer 30 minutes longer. Remove from the heat, and strain through dampened cheesecloth or a fine sieve into a glass container. Let brodo drain off of the meat and vegetables. Do not press; that will cloud the brodo. Discard bones and vegetables, reserving the meat for another purpose.
The brodo is now ready to use, however it is best to refrigerate it overnight and remove any solidified fat the next day. These last steps, refrigerating the brodo and removing the last bit of fat, contribute to a clear brodo. Store, well covered, in the refrigerator 2 days or freeze 6 months.