Friday, September 14, 2007

Potato Harvest Soup with Roasted Rocambole Garlic

Rocambole is the name of a group of hardneck or “ophio” garlics. Harder to grow and with a shorter shelf life than the more common, commercially grown, softneck varieties, rocambole more than makes up for these minor inconveniences with its lush, juicy, distinctive flavor – a trait that’s caused it to be immensely popular with chefs over the past fifteen years or so.

Right now the markets are full of rocambole garlic, and the potato and onion harvests are at their height too. A potato soup might sound like food better suited to Midwinter, but – and I think if you’ve ever tasted a freshly dug potato in all its mineral-rich and buttery glory, you’ll agree – the difference in flavor right now is palpable and too good to miss.

Paired with lots of lightly-caramelized shallots and some of Keith’s Farm’s rocambole, very little else is needed to let in-season potatoes shine. Just remember that whenever you prepare food this simple, the quality of each and every ingredient counts, and so I recommend homemade chicken stock for this soup. Sure I’ve got a little store-bought stock in the pantry cupboard, but here’s where the real stuff, golden and thick with gelatine, really makes a difference.

How to tell if you’ve got yourself some rocambole garlic? Softnecks’ stems are pliable and papery, while hardnecks, as you may have guessed, have firm stalks (which earlier in the season were trimmed to give us garlic scapes and to allow the bulbs themselves to grow larger) Many varieties of rocambole only have 6 cloves, but they are larger and easier to peel than softneck cloves.

To source rocambole garlic or potatoes that you know were dug in the past day or so, check Local Harvest’s Market Finder. And to tell the difference between a flour or wax potato (I call for flour or all-purpose here), you can float the tuber in saltwater. The floury varieties should sink, while waxy, low-starch potatoes float.

A quick note:
Although I will continue to post this week, I won't have much access to the internet. I'm off bridesmaid-ing on the rocky coast of Maine. I look forward to receiving and responding to all of your comments and questions - as well as to catching up on all of your fabulous sites - when I'm back online next Monday. Have a great week!

Serves 6 – 8

2 heads rocambole or hardneck garlic (you may substitute 1 head of softneck)
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
3 lbs flour (high-starch) or all-purpose (medium-starch) potatoes
1 lb shallots, peeled and chopped (use larger shallots for less peeling work)
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
freshly ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
6 cups good chicken stock
8 oz. crème fraîche
fresh chives for garnish

Preheat the oven to 300 F

Cut the top ½ inch or so off the garlic heads – just enough to expose all of the cloves – and place them on a sheet of foil. Cup the foil around them to prevent spilling, and drizzle them generously with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, and pinch the foil closed. Roast in the oven for 1 hour until soft and sweet.

Meanwhile, if your potatoes have thick skins, peel them. Otherwise, you may leave the skins on for extra flavor. Cut the potatoes into medium-large chunks and place immediately into a large pot of cold water to avoid discoloration. Bring to the boil over high heat and cook for 5 minutes, skimming off any froth or scum from the surface. Drain and reserve.

Heat the same large pot over medium heat and add a glug of olive oil. Add the shallots and onions but no salt, and sauté, stirring occasionally, until they are lightly golden at the edges. Add the celery and season with salt and black pepper. Sauté until the celery is softened.

Once the garlic is roasted and cool enough to handle, squeeze the cloves into the pot along with the potatoes, the bay leaves, and the chicken stock. Bring up to a simmer over medium-high heat, reduce to low, cover, and simmer gently for 20 – 30 minutes or until all the vegetables are soft.

Drain through a sieve into a large bowl. Transfer the solids to a food processor and pulse until smooth. Add back to the pot and stir in the cooking liquid slowly until the desired consistency is reached – the amount will largely depend on how starchy your potatoes were. Check the seasoning with more salt and pepper if necessary.

Just before serving, gently reheat, being careful not to let the bottom of the soup burn. Stir in the crème fraîche, check the seasoning again, and serve hot drizzled with more olive oil and sprinkled with chives. Tastes even better the next day.


Joanna said...

What a lovely change from leek and potato soup ... and so much good information about garlic

Hope you're enjoying yourself at the wedding


Rose said...

I always thought a garlic is...well a garlic, no fuss about it. But here you are sharing all these marvelous informations about the different verieties. Thank you very much Amanda.
Have a nice weekend. Enjoy yourself at the weeding. Congratulations to the newly wed and bon voyage back home.

Garrett said...

I need to do a post about garlic varieties. I love Rocambole's heady scent. My fav though is Killarny Red variety. Very spicy. :)

Love this post and love the picture darlin'!

winedeb said...

Again I am missing the farmers market up north. I used fresh garlic this summer and it was awesome! I could not believe the difference from what I am used to getting at the grocery store. It is fall and soups are a hit. Even down here where the weather is still "steamy", we have had 2 soups for lunch this week. Nothing like getting up early and putting on a big pot of soup and making the house smell wonderful so early during the day!

Jen said...

Oh, this looks like the perfect Autumn dish. It's cold here in MI today. I already have a potato leek frittata on the docket for tonight. I hope you're enjoying your time in Maine. The globe zucchini dish looks lovely, as well!

Terry B said...

I've been in a real soup making mood lately too--and got around an "it's too hot for soup" weekend with a watercress vichyssoise. This soup sounds glorious!

Anh said...

Another great post... Thanks so much for the info about garlic!

Gloria said...

I like so this recipe, I will try thanks Gloria

Gloria said...

I forget to say you, I have your blog in my favorites links.x Gloria

Farmgirl Susan said...

This soup sounds fantastic. Can you believe I've never made potato soup? I still have a bunch of potatoes out in the garden to dig up, I can spare a few more heads of my rocambole garlic before it's time to plant the rest, and there's always homemade chicken stock in the freezer. It's a sign! All I have to do is finish up the broccoli onion garbanzo bean soup I made last night, but that shouldn't take long. : ) xo

Joanne Rendell said...

benny has a cold and if i could make him in eat this soup, i'm sure he'd feel better in no time...

looks delicious!

Cynthia said...

Amanda, I don't know if I've said this before but there are so many of your posts that I bookmark because they are a treasure trove of great info.

I long to taste a fresh-out-of-the-ground potato.

Maryann said...

What a nice soup! This was the first year I dug up my own potatoes and they were so delicious.You are going to have one great cook book if you continue like this :)Yours is one of the few blogs that I actually use for recipes to cook for my family. Great job!

Lucy said...

I know what you mean about having freshly dug, buttery-fleshed potatoes as soon as they are available. Why wait until mid-winter? Lovely recipe.

You know, I NEVER knew that floury potatoes sink in salted water. That is a fabulous little tip.

Andy said...

I love rocambole garlic! We have about 5 varieties of garlic at our farmers market and this is one of my favorites.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Thank you all so much for your comments while I was gone. I must say I really missed you all, and everyone’s questions and kind words have been truly wonderful to come home to! I’m looking forward immensely to visiting all of your sites and catching up on what I missed while I was in Maine.

Joanna, I love leek and potato soup too! But I guess this does switch it up a bit while keeping things in the same family. The wedding was marvelous, thank you! Only I wish I wasn’t such a leaky tap. Show me a friend in a veil, and I’m toast.

Rose, thanks so much! It’s great fun to explore all the different varieties out there. And the wedding was wonderful – a very happy couple indeed – so thanks for the kind wishes too!

Garrett, thank you! I don’t think I’ve ever used Killarny Red…can’t wait to see what you do with it. I must hunt some down and give it a whirl – the spicy element sounds fantastic to cook with!

Winedeb, what is it that’s so comforting about a big pot of soup on the stove? You are so right. Though I’ve just gotten in from an exhausting week, I’m making some stock just for the nourishing, golden smell it gives the house. Soup tonight for us too!

Jen, potato leek frittata sounds wonderful too! Thanks so much. It was chilly in Maine, but they’re saying we’re back up to the 80s in NYC this week. Enough is enough!

Terry, thank you! Watercress vichyssoise sounds perfect as we’re apparently going back up to the 80s this week! Maine was so much more seasonally appropriate!

Anh, thanks so much! I’m glad you like.

Gloria, thanks so much – I’ll be sure to check out your site soon.

Susan, broccoli onion garbanzo bean soup sounds fantastic! Gives the traditional broccoli soup a bit more heft and body – I really like that idea. I can’t wait to catch up on all I missed at your site while I was gone! xo

Jo, poor baby Benny! You’re totally up to this soup, I promise you. He’s such a good boy ; (

Cynthia, you are so kind to say so! I’m very flattered, and I thank you for telling me! I hope you have a chance to taste fresh out of the ground potato too!

Maryann, I think that’s the nicest compliment you could have possibly given me! I’m so honored that you make my recipes for your family! And the freshly dug potato is a glorious thing, isn’t it? So much more flavor – I adore them this time of year. By the time they’ve been sitting around in cold storage all winter, they get sort of flabby. Then again, so do I ; )
Lucy, thank you! Aren’t they glorious freshly out of the ground? I love tips like that too – why are they so satisfying?

Andy, how wonderful to have all that variety to choose from! Garrett told me about Killarny Red in his comment above, and now all I can think about is tracking some down!

Mercedes said...

Oh, garlic season. Even though garlic is available year-round, there is nothing like fresh, in-season garlic. And what with the sudden cold-snap in the weather, a warm soup sounds just right!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Mercedes, I completely agree! Fresh, in-season garlic is such a different beast than it's cold-storage counterpart. Juicy and aromatic without the bitterness. If I didn't have to go out in public, I'd have it on everything!

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