It doesn’t seem like it could possibly be interesting, or delectable, or surprising: carrot soup, made simply with onion, broth, a bit of thyme and a whole lot of carrots. No ginger, curry or any of your typical carrot soup dress-me-ups. Alice Waters is bold enough to leave humble carrots to stand on their own. And her soup is creamy yet cream-less, richly satisfying yet indisputably healthful.
My friend Lisa‘s cousin Kathy brought the soup to a potluck baby shower I hosted for Lisa after Christmas. Most people brought finger-type food. But Kathy came in lugging a big soup pot, a ladle and a basket full of ceramic bowls. Though the stove was away from the table full of food, the soup needed no advertisement: anyone who tried it urged her tablemates to get up and get some, then hurried to get more herself. Bright orange, smooth as cream and deeply nourishing, the carrot soup was an irresistible draw. I had to get the recipe.
Kathy acted like it was nothing. “It’s just Alice Waters’s recipe,” she said modestly. Alice Waters, American food revolutionary, who founded Berkeley landmark Chez Panisse 40 years ago. Her brilliantly unassuming book, The Art of Simple Food, is one of the many treasured but neglected cookbooks on my shelf.
Alice Waters’s carrot soup was a recipe I never would have thought to try if I hadn’t tasted Kathy’s first. I love the crunchy sweetness of a raw carrot, but cooked carrots always seem dull and mushy. I eat them, but I don’t love them. But in this soup cooked carrots transcend themselves, blended into creamy perfection that isn’t obviously carrot. It’s just a smooth mouthful of gold.
I used frozen turkey stock for my soup, and my perfect husband said it tasted like Thanksgiving. It might have been the stock. Or it might have been the thyme. In any case, it’s an excellent reminder that the key to good simple food is outstanding ingredients.
As Alice Waters says in her book, “When a vegetable is especially fresh and wonderful, make the soup with water alone for the purest, most delicate flavor.” Water alone! The woman is fearless.
But those of us with less than Chez Panisse-level ingredient sourcing might safely stick with broth. There’s no shame in it.
Start with onions, butter and thyme. Smells like Thanksgiving.
Chicken stock last. Or vegetable broth for a vegetarian/vegan version.
Soup is done a half-hour later.
One day I’ll get myself an immersion blender with a stainless steel end. I wince when I dip the plastic in hot liquid. But it’s certainly no worse than putting hot liquid in a plastic blender pitcher.
You could certainly leave the soup unblended. But that would be missing the whole point.
My immersion blender doesn’t get the soup quite as velvety smooth as Kathy’s. I can tell she didn’t take the lazy way out.
Safety alert: If using a blender with hot soup, be careful to blend in small batches, using a kitchen towel to hold the lid securely. Blending hot liquid releases a lot of steam, and you are at risk of blowing the lid off or scalding your hands unless you keep a tight grip on top and use a towel to protect you from any escaping steam.
Hard to believe so few humble ingredients can make such a refined soup. The brilliance of Alice Waters.
Chock-full of vitamins and low on calories, this soup is an excellent alternative to salad or cooked vegetable with dinner. But it’s also thick and satisfying enough to be a meal on its own, especially with a few parmesan cheese toasts on the side.
Heidi’s celery salt would have been perfect on top – an accent I’ll remember for next time.
And for any Alice Waters fans who missed it, check out this post – Chez Panisse at 40 – by Paris-based food blogger and Chez Panisse alum David Lebovitz.
Alice Waters’s Carrot Soup
A creamy, cream-less, richly satisfying yet indisputably healthful soup. A boldly simple and surprisingly delectable recipe from Alice Waters’s brilliant The Art of Simple Food.
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 onions, sliced
- 1 sprig thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
- 2 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced (about 6 cups)
- 6 cups chicken broth
- In a heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter. Add onions and thyme and cook over medium-low heat until soft, about 10 minutes.
- Add the carrots, season with salt and cook for five minutes.
- Add broth. Bring to a boil, turn heat to low and simmer until the carrots are tender, about 30 minutes.
- Season to taste with salt and puree if desired. It’s easiest to use an immersion blender with hot liquids, though you may need a real blender to achieve a truly velvety texture. Safety alert: If using a blender with hot soup, be careful to blend in small batches, using a kitchen towel to hold the lid securely. Blending hot liquid releases a lot of steam, and you are at risk of blowing the lid off or scalding your hands unless you keep a tight grip on top and use a towel to protect you from any escaping steam.
Serves 6 to 8.
- For lighter, simpler soup, skip preliminary cooking and add onions and carrots directly to broth.
- Garnish with whipped cream or creme fraiche seasoned with salt, pepper and chopped herbs (eg chervil, chives, tarragon).
- Add 1/4 cup basmati rice with the carrots, use water instead of broth, add 1 cup plain yogurt just before pureeing and garnish with mint.
- Cook a jalapeno pepper with the onions, add some cilantro before pureeing and garnish with chopped cilantro.
- Toast cumin seeds in clarified butter or olive oil and use to garnish soup.
- For vegetarian/vegan option, use vegetable broth or water in place of chicken broth. Use water only if you are using very fresh and flavorful carrots.
- A sprinkle of Heidi’s celery salt would be fantastic on top, or parmesan cheese toasts on the side.
Here’s the link to a printable version.
“treasured but neglected cookbooks”–I know just what you mean! This recipe sounds simple and perfect.
thanks, sarah – hope you enjoy it!
I made this soup for my baby… she loved it. I haven’t made it in awhile, now that she is on to chunky food. After reading this, I think I need to make a batch for myself!
lily, you will love it!
How wonderful… what a decadent morning! Slept in til 9, still in my favorite old tattered Lanz, boy does that date me, and it is now 1:45! I have had a bowl of fresh raspberries and a mug of Lilian’s best ever tea all the while catching up with chinese grandma. For you who don’t know her… She is the smartest, kindest, most generous, best ever cook and mom! Thank U for the fantastic getaway this morning! Hugs and Kisses Ohh…. the carrot soup is delicious, a must try along with everything else!