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
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.