Sometimes the simple dishes are the hardest to make well. One of the best dishes I had on my recent Maldives Aggressor trip was an unassuming Tomato Soup bursting with flavor. Before then I never really had much respect for Tomato Soup. It was usually bland and boring.
My favorite part about the scuba diving trip (other than the Manta Ray and Whale Shark) was spending time with Chef Didi in the galley. It was hot, it was cramped, and it was so much fun! I just had to ask him about the Tomato Soup that he served on our first evening. He smiled and whispered that the secret was to use both roasted and fresh tomatoes. That made complete sense–variations of the same ingredient creating layers of flavors. A smokey base from the roasted tomatoes and brightness from the acidity of the fresh tomatoes.
I had been thinking of creating a Carrot Soup recipe. Equally unassuming, and deceptively simple. This was the perfect technique to apply. Roasted carrots as the foundation with a finish of fresh carrot juice. I have been putting off making this because of the extra step required to juice the carrots. Sometimes inspiration is serendipitous. Recently Bolthouse Farms asked me if I wanted to try their carrot juice and smoothies. This was a quick and easy way to add the flavor of fresh carrots to the soup.
I first added fresh ginger, a traditional pairing with carrots. Then I decided to underscore the sweetness of the roasted carrots with a sprinkle of cinnamon and the smokiness of cumin. Cider vinegar added another layer of sweetness while brightening up the deep flavors with its acidity. Since I used milk instead of cream (it just seemed wrong to make carrot soup unhealthy), I needed to add that smooth mouth-feel that only fat can provide. This was achieved by stirring in a drizzle of olive oil at the very end.
I am always a fan of juxtaposing texture so if you have unflavored croutons lying around, top the soup with them just before serving for a contrasting crunch. The fine crumb of croutons made from hamburger and hot dog buns works exceptionally well here. My sister bought a few too many dozen buns for a barbecue that she had at the end of summer. I hate throwing away food, and re-purposing leftovers is a wonderful challenge in creativity. So I sliced them into cubes and dried them out in a 250F – 275F oven until they felt dry. It depends on how dry your buns were to begin with, but it usually takes 30 – 60 minutes. I just dry out and slightly toast the croutons without any added oil, salt or herbs so that I can use them in both sweet and savory dishes. They can be used for bread pudding, mix them with melted butter, salt and pepper to add a crispy topping to mac and cheese, or crush them for homemade bread crumbs in your next meatball dish.
The resulting soup was bright and sweet with just enough complexity that it would be perfectly at home in a multi-course dinner party, but healthy and hearty enough to accompany a sandwich for a simple, satisfying lunch. Chef Didi would be proud.
Roasted Carrot Soup
1 1/2 pounds carrots, cut at an angle into 1/2 inch thick slices
2 medium Vidalia onions, quartered
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, separated
1 14.5 oz can chicken broth
1/4 c milk
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 cups (15.2 oz) fresh carrot juice
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
Pre-heat the oven to 375F.
Line a baking pan with foil. Toss together the carrots, onions, salt, pepper, cumin, cinnamon and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil until the carrots are evenly coated.
Roast for 45 minutes, moving the carrots around halfway through to ensure even cooking.
In a large pot, combine the chicken broth, milk and ginger. Bring to a boil, then add the roasted carrots and simmer for 15 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in the carrot juice, cider vinegar and 1 teaspoon of olive oil.
Top with croutons just before serving.