…….when just a teaspoonful, a pinch, a soupçon, a flick, a twist, a squeeze, a dash of something nudges a dish from good to good.
Yesterday it was a teaspoonful, two to be precise, of toasted and ground cumin seeds and a little heap of extremely crispy pancetta which nudged the Roasted carrot soup.
I have made this soup twice this week, pans of both good and good
Good by the way can be identified by an umm of about 1 second accompanied by a slight pout and an approving nod of the head. Italians will mutter buona at this point …good however is an ummmmmm of about 3 seconds accompanied by a serious pout, wide eyes, a roll of the head and if you are Italian that anticlockwise circular movement made with the right hand and a decisive buonissimo.
The first time (the good) was last Monday, the day Rome turned up its jacket collar, thrust hands in pockets and resolved to pull out woolen clothes and coats. I didn’t actually buy the carrots with soup in mind, my serious autumnal hankering for a plateful of roasted carrots meant they were destined for the oven. It seemed wasteful and foolish to crank up the oven for a modest portion of something so very tasty, so I peeled plenty and decided to make some soup as well. A roasted carrot soup based on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s faithful recipe for roasted pumpkin soup
It is a straightforward kind of recipe with which I have taken liberties. Big chunks of carrot and mild onion are doused in plenty of olive oil, sprinkled with coarse salt and given a good old roasting at about 200° for 35 minutes until they are soft, deep in colour and caramelized at the edges. Meanwhile you soften a couple of very finely chopped shallots and garlic in a heavy pan until translucent and floppy then you add a pinch of peperoncino. Once the roasted carrots are ready you add them to the heavy pan, stir and cover everything with chicken or good vegetable stock, bring the pan to a gentle boil and then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes. Finally you blast the contents of the pan with an immersion blender until it is smooth and creamy, here it is…It was good.
Ok, let me explain why I didn’t post about it on Monday, the nearly bit….. the soup I made on Monday was good and delicious soup which I would happily eat once a week given the appropriate quantity of good bread. Is is full flavoured, the different stages, the softening of the shallots, the roasting of the carrots, the stock, produce a soup with deep layers concentrated flavours. It’s thick with that wonderful creamy, grainy texture root vegetable pureès are famous for…… In short it is good…. nearly good but not quite. It needed something else, it derserved something else – a nudge if you like and then I could share the recipe with you.
I pulled out some faithful books and made a list, coriander seeds, more peperoncino, pancetta, guanciale, beef stock, root ginger…….it was beginning to look like a rather nice experiment if not a rather overwelming quantity of roasted carrot soup, I also sent a message to one of my cooking big sisters, someone who I wish had a food blog but doesn’t as she doesn’t really know what a blog is. The reply was pretty immediate, an extraordinary thing considering this is someone who uses and checks her phone with such stunning irregularity. It was all in capitals as usual as she still hasn’t learned to remove the caps lock. It said;
TOASTED AND GROUND CUMIN AND BITS OF CRISPY BACON ON TOP. LOVE TO YOU AND YOURS.
Such good and speedy advice from such a marvelous cook deserved to be acted upon immediately, carrots were bought, chicken stock made. cumin and pancetta in – lieu of bacon- at the ready.
Oh for the love of crispy pancetta.
Back to the soup. I made the soup exactly as I had on monday but while the shallot was softening and the carrot roasting, I toasted 2 teaspoons of cumin seeds in a small pan over a gentle flame, only for a couple of minutes until they smelt nutty and warm. Then I ground the toasted seeds to a fine powder in a pestle and mortar and added them to the pan immediately after I added the roasted carrots.
It all smelt very very promising, a pan of deep orange, soupy happiness really but this time with a soft spicy undertone, I was excited. I fried the bacon until crisp and rippled at the edges then I snapped and snipped it into little pieces to heap onto the soup.
The cumin, the bacon, this was the nudge, it was good.
Actually, however delicious the bacon – what isn’t more delicious with bacon on top, I would eat a dishcloth given enough crispy bits – the cumin is the real nudge, gently spicy, earthy, warm cumin bringing out the natural sweetness of the carrots and gently lifting their soft and more neutral flavours. The cumin gives the soup edge, subtle but edge nevertheless and a touch of spicy mystery.
I am not sure how motivated I am with my investigations now I have found such a good nudge for the soup……maybe the pancetta with the shallot…or the ginger……we will see.
Roasted carrot and cumin soup with crispy pancetta
Inspired by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe for roasted pumpkin soup with advice from Meg.
4 very good servings
- 900g good carrots
- 1 medium white onion
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 shallots, peeled and very finely chopped
- 1 plump clove of garlic, peeled and very finely chopped.
- 50g butter
- 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
- a good pinch of dried peperoncino flakes or dried chilli
- 1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
- 4 thin rashers of pancetta or bacon
Peel and cut the carrots and onions into big chunks put them in a baking tray dribble with olive oil, sprinkle with coarse salt roast about 200° for 35 minutes until they are soft, deep in colour and caramelized at the edges.
Meanwhile you soften a couple of very finely chopped shallots and garlic in a heavy pan until translucent and floppy.
Toast 2 teaspoons of cumin seeds in a small pan over a gentle flame, it only took a couple of minutes until they smelt nutty and warm. I then ground the toasted seeds to a fine powder in a pestle and mortar.
Add the roasted carrots and onion to the heavy pan, stir then add the ground cumin and pinch of peperoncino to the pan, stir. and cover everything with the chicken or vegetable stock.
Bring the pan to a gentle boil and then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes.
Finally you blast the contents of the pan with an immersion blender until it is smooth and creamy.
Fry the bacon until crisp and rippled at the edges then snap and snip it into little pieces to heap onto the soup.
Mandarins are here and the drummer is on the mend. Thankyou for all your nice words by the way, I passed them on and they made Vincenzo very happy.