Ricotta cheese adds more richness to ordinary carrot soup
The common carrot, loose and easy, can make an uncommonly great soup – the main ingredient for a dish that’s soothing and seductive. Although carrots may be the sweetest, most colorful root pulled from the ground, it’s when they are combined with select ingredients and spices that they are taken out of the ordinary.
Creamy carrot soup – a blend of carrots simmered in chicken broth, cumin, ginger, ricotta and lemon – is one such delight. Each sip feels like you’re being kissed on the inside; it’s a rush of lemon-tinged sweetness going all the way down.
Carrots are plentiful right now in New Hampshire; the hothouse crop is at the markets and field crop will be with us before June is over.
“Nothing like right out of the ground and right into your mouth,” raves Ben Brewster of Souhegan Soccer Farm in Amherst (www.bbsoccer.com/farm). Brewster planted 10,000 carrots in mid-April, and he is not sure it will be enough for the members of his organic community-supported agriculture farm. Unlike bagged carrots, he says, “You get a variety of small and cute, or large and impressive, pulled from the same row. They’re so cheerful. They form an instant bouquet.”
How something so fanciful can be so affordable may just be kismet, like finding a sequin dress in the racks that’s a perfect fit and ridiculously cheap. For those of us incessantly trying new recipes hoping to find ones that transform ordinary ingredients into something spectacular, carrot soup with the right marriage of ingredients is a find.
The life of this carrot soup started as a recipe a friend shared with me during a low-fat cooking stage. It was when I combed elements of Barbara Kafka’s carrot soup from the “Vegetable Love” cookbook that I was able to bring it to full potential. Even after several stages of recipe evolution, it takes little time to make. Carrots soften readily when simmered, which is perhaps why we take them for granted – they don’t give us a hassle in the kitchen.
While carrots may seem to give their all to the likes of stir-fries, pot roast and chicken soup, an added charm emerges when combined with more daring ingredients. Certainly the combination of carrots, cumin and ginger root is common in East Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. In Morocco carrot salad with olive oil, crushed cloves, cumin and lemon juice is commonly sold by street vendors. Carrot dishes from India can include coarsely ground lamb, garam masala, cilantro and mint.
For me, it’s the addition of ricotta cheese, cumin and lemon juice that takes this soup from dainty sweet to drawn out richness. A multi-ethic combination of the ingredients is what seems to make the most interesting carrot soup. There are competitors to this nine-ingredient one, but most seem to rely on heavier ingredients such as butter, potato, cream or coconut milk. Two along these lines that are noteworthy are Chilled Carrot Soup with Cumin and Lime, from Bon Appetit, and Carrot Cumin Soup with Toasted Pecans, from Gourmet. Both recipes can be found on epicurious.com.
Still, you may be thinking, yeah, carrots are good for you, good for nibbling, and there’s that whole “What’s up doc?” business. A silly wabbit may have gotten kids to eat more carrots, but he didn’t bestow any enticement for pursuing the vegetable’s potential. In fact, Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, has said “I don’t especially like carrots. . . . The solution was to stop recording so that I could spit out the carrot . . . and then proceed with the script.”
Leave behind thoughts of carrots and peas, carrots and rabbits, and the multitude of yucky-sweet carrot side dishes at Thanksgiving. When combined with aromatic seasonings and complementary ingredients, carrots rise to luxury staple. A good carrot soup with the right equilibrium of flavors will work through the fall.
“After the first frost, you get a real sweet carrot,” says Brewster, “one that’s older and growing in the ground longer. But plenty of sweetness comes out in the summer,” he adds. “They start to take off in the warm weather.”
CARROT SOUP WITH RICOTTA CHEESE
1 pound chopped carrots, about 2 cups
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon grated ginger root
1 clove garlic, minced
3 cups chicken broth or vegetable stock
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon chives or dill, finely chopped (optional)
Scrape carrots and trim off tops and tails. Chop them in quarters lengthwise.
Heat oil in a 4-quart saucepan set over medium heat. Add cumin, ginger and garlic, and stir for 1 minute to release flavors. (Watch pot carefully – these ingredients are sensitive to overheating.)
Add the carrots and broth. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the carrots are soft, 20-30 minutes. Remove pot from the heat.
In batches, puree carrot broth mixture and ricotta cheese in blender until smooth.
Return mixture to pan. Stir in salt. Reheat until just hot. Add lemon juice, and chives or dill, if desired.
Serve hot, or cover and refrigerate for four hours to serve cold.
Recipe from “Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey & Lebanon” by Claudia Roden; Alfred A. Knopf