I am always excited at the beginning of each season to begin cooking with the produce that is only available at that particular time of year. There are, however, always a few items from the previous season that I am not quick to give up. As we make the official don’t-look-back transition from winter to spring, I am excited about all things fresh and green, but I am having a hard time letting go of root vegetables. A simple tray of roasted root vegetables is a welcome part of dinner any night of the week: it’s tasty and takes virtually no effort and few ingredients. This winter, we experimented a lot with these uglies in other preparations as well.
Enter the beet. Growing up, I thought that a beet’s sole purpose in life was to be pickled. I would turn my nose up at these vinegary, earthy beets that were floating alongside hard-boiled eggs in a jar of oddly-colored liquid in the refrigerator. I now like even pickled beets, but I first learned to love the purple gems roasted, served with goat cheese on a bed of arugula. I must say, roasting beets (and really any root vegetable) gives them a rich, almost-sweet flavor that no other way of preparing them can. Combine this with some vegetable stock and other vegetables and you have yourself a pretty knock-out, vegan soup.
The only problem with beets, though, is that odd color. No matter how you go about peeling and preparing them, you end up with purple hands unless you wear gloves. I actually don’t mind this temporary stain and wear it proudly for a few hours (until I do the dishes) like some kitchen-battle wound. In this recipe the beets are peeled before roasting since they have a friend (chopped fennel) on the roasting pan. I also like to roast them wrapped in aluminum foil and just rub the skin off the cooled beets with a paper towel. No matter how you do it, embrace being BEET RED while it lasts.
I think fennel is an even more misunderstood vegetable than beets. The bulb, which is the swollen white part attached to the green fronds, may look like a root, but actually does not grow underground. The fennel bulb, with its green fronds, is shown above with its roots still attached. The fronds are flavorful (and are used as a tasty garnish for this soup), but the bulb is used most frequently in recipes.
To prepare the fennel bulb, chop off the fronds, and cut the bulb in half. Next, remove the core from both halves (from which the roots were removed before you purchased it) by slicing in the shape of a triangle. Then, chop the bulb according to the recipe you’re using.
The fennel met the beets in a bowl with olive oil, salt and pepper. As I mentioned here, although technically dirtying another dish, I think washing an extra bowl is worth it to assure that each vegetable piece is well oiled and seasoned.
After the oven, it is just a matter of combining the vegetables with sautéed onions and vegetable stock and pureeing either in a blender or with an immersion blender. Regardless of your puree tool of choice, be careful not to splatter purple all over the kitchen (like I did), or your clean white chef’s coat (like I did) — as pictured below, a Valentine’s Day gift from Brandon!! The addition of orange juice and red wine vinegar brightens the flavor of this soup, and the garnish of orange zest and fennel fronds makes it sing.
This soup would make an excellent fireside, mid-winter meal, and just as successfully keeps you warm next to a vase of freshly-picked tulips during a still-chilly spring night.
Roasted Beet Soup with Fennel and Orange
- 2 pounds beets, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 large (about 1 pound) fennel bulb, cut into wedges (reserve fronds for garnish)
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (or 2 teaspoons fresh)
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (reserve zest of 1 orange for garnish)
- 1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Toss the beets and fennel with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, thyme, a generous pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spread evenly on a baking sheet and roast, stirring occasionally, until the beets are tender, about 45 minutes.
- Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot over moderate heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for a minute or two until fragrant. Add the beets, fennel, and vegetable broth, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes.
- Puree the mixture in a blender (working in batches) or with an immersion blender. Transfer the puree to a large pot and bring to a simmer. Stir in the orange juice and vinegar. Salt to taste.
- To serve, garnish with orange zest and fennel fronds.