Soup and Salad for a Literary Lunch

Last weekend Amherst College hosted a debut literary festival, called LitFest, and invited a roster of notable authors to speak to the college and the community. Lauren Groff, author of Fates and Furies and Angela Flournoy, who wrote Turner House, both 2015 National Book Awards finalists in fiction, discussed how they crafted their books. Stacy Schiff, Putlizer prize- winner, and author most recently of The Witches, and Mark Bowden, who wrote Black Hawk Down, shared their experiences writing nonfiction. Since Stacy was a good friend, we invited her for a quick Saturday lunch during the festival.

I knew the meal had to be simple and made in advance, so I chose a soup and salad menu. As the centerpiece I decided on a cream of celery root soup paired with an arugula salad with lemon and shallot dressing. A dark chocolate hazelnut torte ended our lunch.

Celery root, also called celeriac, is not familiar to all cooks, but you’ll find it in many groceries. Once its gnarly exterior has been removed, the firm ivory flesh can be used raw or cooked. In this creamy soup, it is diced, then simmered in broth along with other vegetables before being puréed and enriched with crème fraîche. A gremolata-style garnish of chopped celery leaves, parsley, and hazelnuts adds a pop of color and some crunchy texture to the bowl. But, the real bonus of this soup is that it improves in flavor when prepared a few days in advance. It was perfect for sipping while talking about our favorite books with one of our favorite authors.

 

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Cream of Celery Root Soup with Celery Leaf Gremolata

6 tbsp unsalted butter
6 cups peeled, diced celery root (a 2 1/2 to 2 3/4 lb celery root) (see market note)
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 1/4 cups chopped celery, plus celery leaves for the garnish
7 1/2 cups chicken broth, plus more if needed
1/2 cup crème fraîche, plus 3 tbsp extra for the garnish
Kosher salt

Celery Leaf Gremolata
4 tbsp chopped celery leaves
4 tbsp toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped (see cooking tip)
4 tsp chopped flat leaf parsley
1 1/2 tsp grated lemon zest

1. In a large, heavy pot over medium heat, melt butter. When hot, add celery root, onion, and celery and sauté the vegetables, stirring, 3 to 4 minutes. Add broth, bring mixture to a simmer, and reduce heat to medium low. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

2. Purée the soup in a food processor, blender or food mill. Or, use an immersion blender to purée the soup in the pot. Return the soup to the pot and stir in 1/2 cup crème fraîche. Taste soup and season generously with salt as needed. If soup is too thick, thin it with extra broth. (The soup can be prepared 2 days ahead. Cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat over medium heat, stirring often.)

3. For the gremolata, in a small bowl combine celery leaves, hazelnuts, parsley, and lemon zest and mix well. (Gremolata can be prepared 2 hours ahead; cover and refrigerate.)

4. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and garnish the center of each with some gremolata and a small dollop of crème fraîche. Serves 6.

Market notes:
Celery root has a brown, gnarly exterior and creamy white flesh beneath. Use a sharp knife to remove the skin and any dark spots, then dice the flesh. Celery root has a more concentrated flavor than celery stalks, and is available in the produce section of many supermarkets. Store it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.

Cooking tip: To toast hazelnuts, spread on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a preheated 350 degree F oven until lightly browned and fragrant, about 8 minutes. Watch carefully. Remove and place nuts in a kitchen towel and rub off as much of the skins as possible.

Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2016

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