I had such a great time making the last video. I hope you saw it. The star was a “fictional character” I called Cary Carrot.
Well, in “casting” for the role of Cary I bought a lot of carrots with the greens still attached. It took some work trying to find that one perfect carrot to put into the starring role.
But I was pleased with my choice. He did a great job and he was delicious too!
But what to do with all the also-rans? They all have their fresh curly green tops intact. That’s a lot of carrot greens. I cannot just throw them away. I must cook something with them.
Have you ever tasted a carrot-top? They have a definite carrot taste. But are much more herbal in flavor. They are a bit grassy when eaten raw, but when just barely cooked they retain the best qualities of fresh greens and bring a sweet carroty note along for the ride.
The only way I have ever eaten them was in an Italian soup. I’ll call it a Tuscan Carrot-Top Soup with Rice and Fennel. I first had this soup in Tuscany in the 1980’s (without the fennel) so no matter its actual origins it will always be Tuscan to me!
The fennel may not be a traditional ingredient. But I think the exotic anise notes the fennel brings really deepens the sweet carroty flavor. So I added fennel to the recipe. I used fennel fronds because they grow wild all over my neighborhood. But you could also use a slivered fennel bulb. Cook it along with the mirepoix. There are no rules here.
That’s the beauty of these light, brothy soups I like so much. They are so easy to make and are easy to augment in just about any way you like. I do not usually use a recipe, but I will explain the process here and put it into the recipe section as well. But I think it’s best if you merely follow these guidelines and go off in your own direction.
It starts with a mirepoix. The mirepoix is the building block that keeps a soup like this from becoming watery tasting. If you have practically nothing to eat in the house these three veggies can help build a flavorful soup no matter what else goes in the pot. I promise.
For a soup that will serve 6-8 people chop up 3 or 4 garlic cloves, and two tablespoons minced shallots. Add these to a few tablespoons of olive oil set over medium heat. As soon as they get fragrant (do not let them color at all) add 1 cup celery chopped into 1/4” dice, 1 1/2 cups onion chopped into 1/4” dice, and about 2 cups sliced carrots. This is your mirepoix.
Typically in a mirepoix you would be working with uniformly sized vegetables. But in this case I am using the carrots sliced in 1/4” thick rounds. I want them to stand out from the other vegetables because this is a carrot soup. It should look like a carrot soup. Also, I want to cook the celery and onions until quite soft. But I’d like to keep a little more “tooth” to the carrots. For me, in a soup, textures are massively important. In this case I want several different textures.
Once the vegetables are cooked add another tablespoon or so of olive oil and bring the heat up a bit. Once things start to bubble and sizzle add the rice to the pan.
Stir the rice into the mixture very well. Keep stirring so nothing burns on the bottom. The goal here is to infuse flavor into the rice. It will only take two or three minutes. Lower the heat again to medium.
This next step is necessary only if you are using rice in the soup. In order to get the rice as flavorful as possible I like to add a broth with a little fat. You don’t have to. A vegetable broth will work nicely too. But in that case I would probably add a pat of butter. Because something with some fat (like a chicken broth) really adds to the creamy texture that the rice takes on.
This step is just like a risotto. I add about 1 1/2 cups broth a little at a time in 3 or 4 additions. Keep stirring the mixture as you go. Wait until most of the liquid is absorbed before adding more. Taste the rice often at this point. We want to keep a kernel of crunch deep inside each grain of creamy rice.
Once that is achieved add about 6 cups of water. Use your judgment here as to how brothy you like it. Add salt and pepper to taste and let the soup simmer at a medium temperature until the flavors come together. Like I said I like a variety of textures so do not let it simmer too long.
But if you want a very soft and consistent texture to this soup then you can cook it until the rice begins to break down. In this case I would use an immersion blender to break up the vegetables a bit more too. Though I would not go all the way to a puree.
Whichever way you go, chunky or creamy, do not add the carrot tops and fennel fronds until right before you serve it. The bright green tastes and color are the real stars of the soup.
You will need to pull the light feathery ends from the chunkier stems of both the carrot tops and the fennel fronds. It’s kind of a boring job. But not every kitchen task is glamorous!
I used about 2 cups worth (fairly tightly packed) in a ratio 3 to 1 (1 1/2 cups carrot-tops & 1/2 cup fennel fronds), but you can experiment with this if you like.
Add all the greens at once and stir them in quickly. They will wilt and stay bright green if you serve the soup right away.
So taste for seasoning and ladle it into bowls.
I tasted mine just before serving and decided it needed a hit of acid. A squeeze of orange juice was my first thought. But I passed on that for fear it would take a naturally sweet soup and make it sugary.
Sherry vinegar would have been a nice choice I think, it has a distinctive almost nutty flavor. But on this day, in the mood I was in. I didn’t want distinctive. I wanted “bright”.
In the end, I chose the Braggs apple cider vinegar I had around from my vinegar inoculation experiment. I think it was just right. I do not know why but the upfront apple quality of apple cider sometimes turns me off. But the “apple-ness” in the vinegar completely disappeared when I added it to the soup. Leaving a nice bright note of acidity that accentuated the carroty flavor. But go lightly with the vinegar. I added just a bit more than a teaspoon. Anymore and it will start to taste vinegary.
Garnish the soup with a big drizzle of good fruity olive oil and a bit of shaved parmesan cheese.
So, carrot tops may not always be on your shopping list. But if you lugged them all the way home from the grocery store and you have them around shouldn’t you be using them?
SERIOUS FUN FOOD