I’m a glossy cookbook kind of gal. Partly because I’m the sort of cook who never follows recipes, and partly because I’m a five-year-old at heart who won’t give up her picture books. I see cookbooks as stories told through pretty photos, better still if said photos are interspersed with thoughtful prose and solid recipes, something Tessa Kiros does so very well.
Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food (2007, Clarkson Potter) was not a cookbook I ever intended to bring home, pictureless and manual-like it is, with only the occasional illustration. But it sat waiting at the library having been placed in queue at some point, probably after I was lured in by its calm buttercup exterior. It waited, wedged on my bookshelf between this and this - each infinitely more exciting with their photos and styling and stories.
On a lark, I picked up Waters one night before bed, winding down with some tea, and flipped haphazardly to the ‘Broth and Soup’ section. To be honest: I didn’t expect much at all. But a couple pages later, Alice had me with her simple instructive chapters and intelligently-crafted recipes. I finished off soups, flipped ahead to ‘Pasta and Polenta’ and ultimately just started from the beginning of her story.
I want to linger some on her recipes. They really are smart. After years of compulsive cookbook reading, I’ve become quite picky about what makes an excellent recipe. From ingredients to method, a good recipe is infused with its author, be it through quirky prose, a friendly tone, or neat precision. A good recipe doesn’t skimp on details, but it doesn’t read like a technical guide. It’s been tested until it’s perfect (seems obvious, but so many cookbooks publish these days with unrefined, half-formed recipes and methods). It tells a story. Waters does an especially wonderful job, helping the reader understand how and why ingredients work together to make good things.
When I spotted two bunches of delicate creamy-orange carrots at the market, Alice’s carrot soup came to mind. I’d long since returned the cookbook to the library, but I didn’t need a recipe: a quick meld of butter, carrots, onion, and salt would do. No homemade stock or fancy pots, just a knife, cutting board and autumn’s best carrots. Thirty minutes of methodical chopping and stirring later, I had a sweet-scented apartment and warm meal fit for a chilly night.
(adapted from Alice Waters, makes two dinner-size bowls)
This soup can be pureed to a velvety consistency, but there’s something special and simple about the whole carrot pieces, swimming in broth, sinking like silk under the teeth. The carrots really are the shining star here, so make sure they’re just-picked, with bright green tops and vibrant orange flesh.
4Tbsp unsalted butter
2 cooking onions, thinly sliced
6-8c fresh-as-can-be carrots, thinly sliced (it’s okay to leave the skin on if the carrots are tender and mild – taste one!)
6c vegetable broth (I use Whole Foods’ 365 Organic), warmed
sea or kosher salt to taste
optional mix-ins, to serve: chives, cilantro, Greek yogurt
In a heavy-bottom saucepan over medium-low heat, gently melt the butter. Add the sliced onions and cook until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the sliced carrots and season liberally with salt. Cook for about 5 minutes then add the vegetable broth. Increase heat to high and boil for a couple minutes, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for about 30 minutes. The carrots should be meltingly tender. Taste for salt and ladle into warmed bowls. (You may choose to puree the soup at this point for a more refined bowl.)
Serve with a crack of black pepper, or garnish with chives or cilantro or a dollop of Greek yogurt.