Carrot and Cognac Soup
It doesn’t take much to find something ordinary and elevate it to the realm of special, luxe and sophisticated. It’s in the sprinkle of flaky Maldon sea salt on top of your Grandmother’s famous brownies, the minced tarragon in your tuna salad sandwich on brown, or the exceptional olive oil drizzled amongst shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano on top of a five minute blended tomato soup.
In my last post about grown-up Millionaire Bars, we told you that we had plans in mind for how we wanted to use Courvoisier to elevate a basic dish into something sublime as part of the Courvoisier Collective: Culinary Masterpieces. However, we didn’t have a chance to post it until now, what with my going into labour and spending most of last week in the fugue-state of a new mom (and yes, you will be introduced to the Choosy Baby very shortly!). That said, I was determined to scrape in an entry before the Collective closed their virtual doors on August 24th, and out of all the dishes we experimented with, Mike and I mutually agreed that our favorite was found in the simple combination of carrots and cognac.
For our entry, elevating the ordinary comes through the gentle kiss of cognac in a basic carrot soup, which is set off by a drizzle of potent dill oil and a swirl of tangy, creamy, homemade creme fraiche. If you wanted to make your own creme fraiche as well then you should plan to start a day in advance, but otherwise this recipe is simple enough to be made for a mid-week dinner, but elegant enough to serve at your next fancy-pants soiree.
Carrot and Cognac Soup
Serves 6 as appetizer or light meal
- 2.5 lb carrots (~ 8 large)
- 1 lb leeks (~ 3 large)
- 3/4 lb fennel bulb (1 large)
- 5 cloves garlic
- 3 tbsp butter
- 1/2 tsp caraway seed
- 3 oz Courvoisier cognac
- 6 cups chicken stock *
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- small bunch dill (~ 1 cup loosely packed)
- 2/3 cup olive oil
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 6 tbsp creme fraiche, or to taste **
* For a vegetarian soup, feel free to substitute a flavorful and golden (not tomato based) vegetable stock.
** Sure, you could buy creme fraiche, but it is so embarrassingly easy to make at home that I don’t know why you would. Simply stir about 2 tbsp of buttermilk into 2 cups of heavy or whipping cream. Cover this with something breathable, like a paper towel secured on top of the jar or bowl with an elastic band, and leave it to sit at room temperature for 12 – 24 hours. Give it a stir every 6 hours or so and put the lid back on. The creme fraiche will get thicker the longer that it stands, but I think it is just about perfect at 18-24 hours, when it is thin enough to drizzle when at room temperature, or thick enough to dollop when cool. The creme fraiche will keep in your refrigerator for at least 2 weeks in a sealed container.
Start by preparing the dill oil. Put the oil, salt and dill weed (stems and all!) into a blender.
Puree the mixture until it is smooth and uniform.
Line a fine mesh sieve with thin muslin or a coffee filter. Pour the dill oil into the sieve and set it over a bowl to drain for at least an hour. There is no need to stir it or press down on the solids for now, it should drain naturally with a little bit of time. When the oil has drained, discard the remaining solids. This is well more dill oil than you will need for the soup, but the remaining oil will keep well in a sealed container for several weeks.
Prepare your vegetables for the soup. Coarsely chop only the white and pale green portions of the leeks, discarding the green tops (or saving them for vegetable stock). Leeks are filthy little vegetables, so rinse them very well in a basin of cold water to get rid of all the grit.
Peel the garlic and roughly smash the cloves.
Peel the carrots and dice the carrots and fennel bulb. In a large soup pot, melt the butter over medium low heat. Add the the leeks, carrots, fennel, garlic and caraway seed. Let this begin to sweat out for 15 minutes, or until the carrots are very tender.
Stir the pot intermittently as the vegetables cook because you don’t want them to burn, but a brown fond at the bottom of the pot is to be expected as the sugars from those carrots caramelize. Don’t worry; that’s pure flavor down there and we’re about to get it loosened into the pot!
Deglaze the pot by pouring the cognac all over the inside of the pot. It will immediately steam and boil off; with a wooden spoon, rapidly stir the contents being sure to scrape up and loosen the brown crust from the bottom of the pan and incorporate them back into the vegetables.
Pour in the stock and let this simmer on low heat for at least 30 minutes so that all the vegetables can continue to soften as the flavors marry.
Carefully puree the soup in batches through the blender, being particularly careful with that boiling hot liquid, or use a hand blender to do the trick. Try to get the soup as smooth as you can.
I like a robust and fairly thick carrot soup. However, if you prefer something thinner, feel free to thin the soup with a bit more chicken stock or even a splash of water. When you have achieved your desired consistency, season the soup to taste with salt and pepper.
The carrot soup is sweet and mild with just a hint of licorice flavor coming through from the fennel and caraway seed. However, when the dill oil is drizzled on top to brighten it up and add freshness, which combines with the creaminess and tang of that luscious homemade creme fraiche, this goes from being just another basic root vegetable soup to something sophisticated and dinner party worthy.
…Or Tuesday-night-worthy, because sometimes life needs a bit of luxury in the every day.